Skybound – Pink Cloud Summer Review
Born in Ottawa and metaphorically raised in Tokyo, Skybound released their instrumental post prog EP on July 17th 2020. The band takes inspiration from Dream Theater, Haken, Periphery, and Intervals. The prog instrumentals are mixed with a beautiful atmosphere, one that makes you imagine a “Pink Cloud Summer”, and alt-rock riffs. Electronic sounds and staccato distortion riffs together almost sound like a modern cover of 2000s anime or game soundtracks. It’s as if Skybound took the ending to “Galaxies” out of an 8-bit platformer. The band confirms that this was indeed the purpose by saying that they were “aiming to create a dreamy aesthetic” to induce “an overwhelming sense of nostalgia” with inspiration from Japanese culture. While the nostalgia is there, the songs also carry a futuristic vibe. The whole EP may as well be played in the background of a self-improvement montage in a Hollywood film, or more appropriately, in an anime. The dreamy vibe can be correlated with a hopeful one. According to the band, the instrumentals are based on “the idea of someone wandering through a seemingly endless city, searching for someone or something they’re not even sure exists.” The album begins with the “sunset”, continues with a look into “galaxies” and the “luna” (moon), and ends with “pink clouds” (representative of the sunrise). Even without lyrics or set structural elements, Skybound found a way to set a theme in this album.
Tiago Santos – Guitar
Michael Henley – Keyboards and Piano
Dave Ramsay – Bass guitar
Jamison Tomka – Drums
1. Tokyo Sunset (2:20)
The EP opens very much like a journey. The serene view of a Tokyo sunset unfolds before our ears, with expressive and jazzy piano chords depicting the aerial scenery while a reassuring beat created with the synth tying us to the ground. It’s almost like watching the sunset itself, with each keypress from the piano resembling the last pieces of warmth from the sun.
The song builds from these emotions, with the use of orchestral strings that remind the listener of movie scores. The staccato strings are employed to create tension within the piece; and this time, the reassuring beat turns into an instrument to build up this tension. The song until this point uses a very straightforward structure, each sound adding to what came before it. However, when we finally reach the climactic middle, the song completely shifts the serenity with a more energetic feel, thanks to the addition of electronic drums and the lead synth sounds. Though one can argue that the band could’ve spent more effort on making this section feel less like those generic inspirational soundtracks from commercials, perhaps by lowering the movie score influence.
The ending returns back to where we started, almost symbolizing the recurrence in nature: the hope that the sun will rise again on us tomorrow; that this is not the end, it’s merely the beginning. The jazzy piano returns with a little more spice to wrap things up. And the final chord, that can feel out-of-place, doesn’t just show the band’s wit; but also a sense of indulgence while staying unique to one’s own style.
2. Liquid Courage (3:26)
5+5+5+5+4=24. That’s the basic premise of the Liquid Courage intro riff. 24 16th notes add up to a 6/4 time signature. The clean guitar here feels like a percussive instrument, played along with the metal rims of drums. The transition to regular snare from the rims brings about a very soft clean guitar strum. The intro thus features 2 clean guitars used for 2 different purposes. When the distortion finally hits, you realize that you already got used to the odd subdivision with the help of the soft intro. The intro clean guitar uses melodic notes on the last 4 16th notes to transition into the next bar. The distortion guitar is the complete opposite, the last 4 notes are muted, creating a percussive effect, while the other notes are melodic.
Starting from the bridge, every part flows into each other with such an ease that the contrast between parts is not able to be perceived. The bridge finally features the long-awaited 4th note intervals, but the kick drum continues to remind us of the subdivisions in the beginning. As the guitars ease into a 4-bar loop, the drumming starts to transition from being a backing element to a driving element. In the second half of each bar, the drummer first plays soloish transitioning licks, then draws itself back into the song while supporting the rhythm with crash hits. The same thing happens with the much slower grand piano part. From the beginning of the first bridge to this mark, the song stayed on a consistent low.
The next part builds up into a nostalgic double synth melody. Long notes swim between the drums and the lead synth, playing around with 4th and 16th note beats. At this crucial high, the song ends as the synth parts fade into nothingness, preparing an atmosphere of the space in the cosmic sense.
3. Galaxies (4:20)
Opening with an interesting four-chord loop, “Galaxies” is built up with this fast-paced guitar arpeggios. The opening guitar carries lots of complicated emotions in it with chords they pick and the way they perform the chords. The chord progression itself actually is a very sad one. It resembles the feeling of wandering in a vast galaxy all alone. However, the execution with extremely rapid guitar and explosive drum gives this chord progression the energy it lacked.
This looping arpeggio seamlessly transitions into a guitar part from Dream Theater with Japanese characteristics. It explodes heavily with the addition of the drums. Drums with heavy bass accompany the high guitar notes, completing each other. Even though this is enough for a normal band, for Skybound, this is just the foundation. A more overdriven guitar enters and starts soloing. This was not a hard shred like what the listener saw earlier. This is a pure melodic guitar solo. This incredibly catchy melody echoes a standard opening song for an anime and this is how you understand a melody rocks.
After that, the band decides to slow down a little bit. Muted guitar murmurs a soft melody. Then the extension of synth and bass enriches the tone of it by a lot. It adds a jazzy vibe to the whole melody. Then they even create more space for the song to breathe. Contrary to the start of the song, the notes now are not jammed into one place but they have space to breathe. They aren’t just here for the melody, they now serve to create the atmosphere. Light guitarwork in the background, dreamy synth chords all work to create this dreamy atmosphere where you feel like you are among stars. However, first the drums, then the opening guitar loop enters the frame and the mood slowly changes, and loopbacks to the beginning.
It continues with a funky and djenty breakdown. The slapping and the licks of the bass creates a funky feeling while distorted guitar creates a heavy groove. Then a synth resembling the human voice enters and enriches this breakdown. The tone he picks can be considered odd to the breakdown however it works perfectly. The ending continues with just the synth. Away from all of the instruments, with just the bass synth, the whole song turns into something that can come out of an 8-bit video game. Even though this electronic ending is different from the rest of the song, this melody still encapsulates the essence of it.
4. Luna (6:07)
The longest track of the EP, which also contains the contribution of Richard Henshall, is the song that showcases the characteristic sound of the EP; and the band in general. While the track is basically Skybound “in a nutshell”, we also get the feeling behind the EP mostly on this track; which is a dream walk through a neverland of desires and accomplishments.
The post-rock style atmospheric synth intro directly drops you to the place where the band wants you to be: the warm excitement of a peaceful search. Piano and drums enter as you continue on your journey, being independently syncopated and as if improvised. As the drum carries on a certain groove with the melodic fills of the piano, other instruments cut through the atmosphere with the heavy power chords that come in and out of the song throughout the 2nd section. The heavy kick pattern accompanied by the djent-ish bass tone with the tapping guitar technique instantly reminds you of another artist and album that explores a similar direction in the modern prog scene: Plini’s Handmade Cities. The harmonic structure of the chord progression with the tone choice is certainly an aspect that puts the band above many aspiring prog artists today.
Dynamically, the song slowly builds up to a highly melodic guitar solo. The rhythmical “wait and continue” may be the most interesting thing of the song structurally and functionally; since after the constant stopping and playing of the bass, guitars, and drums, the track finally resolves to an uplifting guitar solo that differentiates from the previous parts and feels stronger because of this rhythmical choice of the band.
The ear-catching grooves of Jamison Tomka’s drums on this track prove itself as the fundamental layer of the song, as Luna slows down the tempo and creates space for the listener to absorb the previous sections. It is important to notice the sound choices that the keyboardist Michael Henley made in order to procure a certain feeling in the bridge. The harmonic and unison come-backs between the keyboard ends with the grand finale, the melodic post-rock guitar solo with the addition of all the other instruments.
5. Pink Cloud Summer (3:56)
The last track on the EP, which also gives it its name, is a fulfillment of what the band has to offer crammed into just below 4 minutes. As the band themselves said, this was the last song that they put together and became one of their favorites from a “maturity and arrangement standpoint”. That’s an interesting remark to make, and might not exactly be understood before actually listening to the song. By putting the last song they produced at the end of the EP, the band also demonstrates how recording these songs helped them evolve as individuals and as a group of people. Through the music, we can see how the band matured and how they used their newly acquired experience and skills to make the song musically more interesting. The song opens with a short and calm intro driven by the guitar, where each instrument contributes something, no matter how small, that proves the attention to detail the band gave during production. The feel of the following section contrasts with this calmness considerably with a 9/8 guitar riff that always seems to rush before the beat (a clever way to use the 3:4 polyrhythm), preventing you from nodding your head just right with the notes. Eventually, you get it right, but before you can, the band has already moved on to the next section where we are welcomed with a more “djent” beat backing a very minimalist guitar and bass solo (more like an atmospheric work) that adds a more ethereal quality to the song.
Michael Henley’s great variety of synths is also mentioned in the song with a short riff that helps build the climactic madness that follows. Instrumental prog is all about these sections where it’s proven once again that sometimes the music itself carries emotions so complex that adding vocals would only ruin this special connection between the artist and the listener. The song features a piano solo, that finally embraces the jazz influence that was hinted at throughout the album. The ending perfectly captures the feeling of summer, where hope shines a light to all our souls and a calm, mystifying wave of emotion loosely hangs around the corner.
I couldn’t help but think whether the song’s name was connected with the ending. “Pink cloud syndrome” is a stage of early addiction recovery where you feel very confident and excited about recovering. This feeling of confidence is also reflected and connected with what we feel during summer.