Written by Jason Hillenburg, posted by blog admin
Debut albums aren’t often this long in the making. The gestation and evolution of Sky Orchid, essentially a duo featuring brothers Gabriel and Daniel Traknyak, resulted in seven year process beginning in the brothers’ garage with early incarnations of the band. The initial leg of their creative journey ends here with the release of Oculus, a ten song collection announcing the Traknyaks as one of the more potentially formidable musical units emerging from the indie scene today. Some of these songs are years old while the brothers worked up new material during the album’s recording sessions. Despite the disparate births of these songs, the collection has an overall coherence and has a potent organic sound.
Gabriel Traknyak has an appealing voice. It blends smoky tones with soulful emotiveness quite unlike anyone else working in this style today. The album opener “The River” gives him an early turn in the spotlight as he, initially, carries the song single-handedly with minimum musical accompaniment. The brothers prove themselves to be rather adept at orchestration – “The River” builds in a dramatic way, centered on piano, without ever straining for effect. The opener is one of those recent songs the brothers pair with older material and the album’s second song, “Sneakers”, is as well. The pensive songwriting spirit pervading the first track comes across nicely with this track, but the performance is much more straight-forward than we heard with the album’s kick off number. Gabriel Traknyak excels once again vocally and the arrangement intersperses its meditative cool with occasional flashes of cacophonous musical firepower. Daniel Traknyak lays down some especially memorable drums for this one.
“Wildfire” is an unusually distinctive track thanks to its muted acoustic beginnings and a keyboard rich final quarter. The acoustic guitar work isn’t particularly flashy, thankfully, and effectively counterpoints Gabriel Traknyak’s voice without being obscured. “I’ll Stop the World (Part 2)” has a propulsive rock pulse powered by Daniel Traknyak’s drumming opening the number before reining it in for far more spartan verses. The vocal melody stands out for its idiosyncratic qualities and Gabriel Traknyak’s vocal versatility comes through in a very accessible way. The guitar work in a song like this differs from typical rock songs insofar as it has a much more orchestral slant – there’s no guitar hero theatrics or lead breaks. Instead, it’s another color in a spectrum of shades the duo adeptly incorporates into the larger whole.
The album’s oldest song, “Breathe Easy”, name checks Bob Marley and, indeed, the track comes off like a loving, playful reggae pastiche, but never wearies listeners. Brief bursts of distorted guitar lurk beneath the surface of the mix and Daniel Traknyak’s drumming shines once again. The song’s conclusion may throw some listeners for a loop as the duo all but abandons the reggae posturing for improbable six string shredding and a nearly hard rock finale. The emphasis on guitar continues with the album’s final song “Fortify”, but it’s less incongruous than what we experienced with “Breathe Easy”. Instead, it’s another reminder of the duo’s talent for exploring dynamics in their songwriting and the restraint shown during many of the songs verses juxtaposes dramatically against Gabriel Traknyak’s fiery guitar playing. Oculus is a powerful debut and Sky Orchid’s willingness to utilize the full range of their talents promises future releases will only build on the immense promise heard here.