It’s a rare thing when bands garner comparison to the big leagues on their first outing. There’s even more reason to take note when it’s an EP, rather than a full-length record, that’s causing all the hullabaloo. Such is the case with Skytown Riot, the Knoxville, Tenn. quartet, and their new EP, Soul or System.
Skytown Riot takes pages from the books of bands that have built their careers on filling stadiums with monstrous riffs and choruses that beg to be sung along to. On “Misbehave”, it seems as if frontman Van Gallik has attended the Adam Levine school of vocal swagger. When pianos come into play, like on “The Afterglow”, you can’t help but wonder if Chris Martin from Coldplay is secretly a guest member. And when Gallik lets loose with those aforementioned massive riffs? Sometimes they’re shiny and slick, sometimes they’re raw and jagged, but regardless, it sounds like the second coming of Muse.
What’s really striking about this EP is the sense of completeness and maturity that resonates through many of the tracks. A lot of that is owed to Cody Hensley on keys. When it comes to piano-tinged anthem rock, it takes more than a little talent to maintain balance. For every Coldplay or Muse, there are six bands that can’t successfully meld their classical/orchestral and alternative rock sides. Skytown Riot has a long way to go before they can join the ranks of those powerhouses, but the basic building blocks are certainly there.
Equally praiseworthy is the use of strings. These two components are used throughout Soul Or System, but they never feel superfluous or simply added to impress. Rather, they’re complements to the alternative rock side of Skytown Riot. They never get overwhelmed and instead aptly hold their own against the rather bombastic drums and guitars. The pianos and strings, particularly in “The Afterglow”, add a completely new dimension, one that keeps the stadium-ready parts of Soul Or System from feeling too over-the-top.
Make no mistake about it, despite these classical tinges, Skytown Riot’s music is definitely catered to stadium-sized crowds. “Runaway Princess” is a particular standout. Yet another example of a talented balancing act, “Princess” combines gorgeous, spidery guitar riffs with morbid lyrics that detail the sordid fall of a “debut depressive drama queen.” The chorus, when it explodes from the melodic depths of the opening verses, is insanely catchy. This is a song built to reach the rafters and get the pit dancing.
On Soul Or System, the one track that doesn’t gel with the others is appropriately the song that Skytown Riot wasn’t originally responsible for. “The House of the Rising Sun” has been a favorite choice for cover songs for years, particularly for American bands based in the southern United States. Skytown Riot’s version, particularly the old-fashioned production, complete with a crackling vinyl intro, just doesn’t work well when surrounded by the rest of the smooth and slick tracks. It’s not at all a bad cover, but when put alongside with the rest of Soul Or System, it gets overshadowed.
Skytown Riot are still arguably in the very beginning of their career. By all accounts, they shouldn’t have such a strong sonic skeleton already in place. Somehow, though, they’ve managed to pull off sounding both seasoned and fresh in Soul Or System. Despite the title of their EP, you don’t have to choose between soul – present in their wailing guitars and stirring strings – and system – evident in the perfect balance and high production value. They’re both here in spades.