If ever there was an offering of music so difficult to classify it would be Hey! Tonal’s new self-titled album. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalists Mitch Cheney and Alan Mills, the music is built up in layers and I rather like this approach to sound production, it’s a little like sketching in audio form and the result is impressive. We start with one of life’s eternal questions; (what) ‘If Flash Gordon Was a Sk8r’, the track is part 90’s David Bowie, part Dream Theater and shifts and moves while holding a steady rhythm as a backbone. This is a marker of things to come. As the layers build up the rhythms often hold little rhythms within them, there are flavours of Africa and South America (no, I’m not describing my favourite coffee brand) while the guitar parts are often twinkly and industrial. Think mid-career Talking Heads (particularly ‘I Zimbra’).
‘Kcraze’ moves into darker territory with a chugging guitar set against almost jazz drumming, it sounds bonkers but there is something deft in the production that brings it all together neatly. What could be a thrash metal soundtrack manages to stick the right side of the mainstream. I think this is what the album is all about, it’s interesting and coherent and shouldn’t work, but it does. It brings in lots of interesting rhythms and details and what could have been a mish-mash of noise really holds your attention and improves on repeat listening.
Although the duo is guitar-based, it’s the drums that take centre stage, they flip between the metronome duties and move into drum solos with ease if only all bands could have this level of drumming work at their disposal (check out ‘Smarmy Faulkner’ for a crazy drum intro that just… fits). The initial title for the project was ‘Drummers Perspectives’ and the idea was to have the drummer play the melodies rather than react to them. If you have a drummer in your life, GET THIS ALBUM!
Overall, it’s brilliant, sure it won’t tick every box, but it feels like an album that wants to do things differently and will strike a chord with some up and coming musicians who crave something different from Nirvana, The Rolling Stones and whoever else they think they should be listening to.