Sometimes I like to test out a band on my fist listen by putting on their album while I am preoccupied. Its a little game I like to play called “Can you grab my attention?” The idea behind it is to see if the music is interesting or powerful enough to climb to the top of my cognitive pyramid. It also is also a great way to divine the most immediately noticeable tune of the album.
I decided to put on Hikes’ EP during a slow afternoon at work. I had heard the name tossed around in conversation and decided it was time for a listen. I popped in one ear bud and hit play while I caught up on email. That was the plan at least. Halfway through the intro of Spring Forward I had popped in my second ear bud and stopped working. Sorry boss, thank you Hikes.
It’s hard to find something I don’t like about this EP. Which is honestly strange as Hikes employs a few musical pet peeves of mine. First off, they are undeniably Prog. Ok sorry, they are math folk, but let’s be honest the “math” genre is a bunch of Prog players trying to avoid being called progressive rock. Second, as a guitar player myself, I almost unilaterally hate tapping. It always make me think of an Ibanez add of an airbrushed Steve Vai with awkwardly long, highlighted hair. Tapping is a flashy technique that almost always results in an audible loss of tone. And you know what? It’s a guitar, not a piano.
That being said, Hikes has managed to meld intricate tapping melodies and counterpoint with standard picked riffs and rhythms in a way that does not detract from their tone. My hats are off to the Hikes guitar players.
Hikes’ songwriting style is expansive and free flowing. They note water as being a main inspiration, and it’s easy to hear that in their songs. Their songs go through quiet, thoughtful phases that evoke a slow moving creek wandering through pastures. Then, they surprise you by turning the bend and quickly transforming into a rushing rapid of notes and syncopation. As a listener you feel very much like a passenger on this river, drifting off during the gentler sections only to be pulled back in through stretches that demand your active attention.
After making it through the lengthy EP, I couldn’t help but wonder how these songs would work out in an album setting. The 4 track EP is already nearly the length of most pop albums, clocking in at just over 25 minutes. I am not sure that a full album worth of Hikes’ intense, meandering songs could captivate the average listener’s attention for more than a few songs at a time, or even for the entirety of a 8 minute song. That may be the point, though. Hikes’ is surely not your average band. While searching and striving for the zenith of musical creativity, they appear to be intentionally ignoring the lowest common denominator. If you are someone who enjoys a challenging listen, I would recommend this EP. If you are someone who prefers to consume his audio in 3 minute bits… you know what, give yourself an aural stretch. It’ll be worth it.