Friday, January 11, 9 p.m.
Rozz-Tox, 2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island IL
The passionate vocals of singer Alyssa Niemiec sit front and center in the music of Madison, Wisconsin-based rock quintet Skyline Sounds (playing Rozz-Tox on January 11), leaping from their songs in arcs of cascading melody and criss-crossing harmonies.
While her voice could easily gel with electronic pop arrangements closer to today’s typical radio fare, her presence in the context of her band’s dense guitar-rock sound elevates them from the ranks of upstart “indie” bands across the Midwest into a more rarefied, professional layer of the wide scene. Their 2017 album Glances sidesteps the homogenizing trappings of modern rock by shifting through a wide range of moods and ideas, often in the space of a single song. “Dimensions,” for example, slides from a major-key surf riff topped with Niemiec’s taunting vocals into a more wistful emotional space flecked with brittle, battling guitars that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Modest Mouse record. When flashes of bright synth melody arrive in later verses, the track veers closer to party-starting power pop. The band tends to split their tracks open for the better with creative synth gestures, planting new counterpoint melodies over the same verse structures when they loop back around, or shifting the mood instantly from quiet contemplation to rowdy energy.
Skyline Sounds applies this savvy for shifting arrangements to many different song templates, as reverb-heavy singer/songwriter ballads escalate into orchestral pop carried over glockenspiel-like tones, or woozy synth lines rise into heavy chugging guitar riffs. The band handily avoids any possible accusations that “every song sounds the same” by making sure that even the parts of one song barely sound alike. Their refusal to sit still, and their penchant for stacking radically different verses and bridges together into dynamic song arcs, aligns them with the camp of high-minded-intellectual “we’re still a rock band at heart, though” groups such as The Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead. The latter’s “Climbing Up The Walls” comes to mind instantly in the melting airplane guitar scrape and heavy, plodding beat that ends Skyline Sounds' “Light.” Elsewhere, on album highlight “Time Staggers On,” Niemiec breaks into a stride of sighing, gorgeous vocal lines which, when planted over the band’s jagged math-rock guitars and chugging bass, manage to evoke the likes of Paramore for a few moments before the song slips into melting synth interludes. These drippy segments, and the fact that the band offers up short instrumental/incidental tracks between their proper songs, allow their music to enter a cinematic headspace, clearly focused on texture and mood as much as shredding on their instruments.
Skyline Sounds plays locally on January 11 with opening sets by Tambourine and Pollinators, admission is $5-10, and more information is available by calling (309)200-0978 or visiting RozzTox.com.