So I am discovering that Albany, NY has some amazing bands. After my recent review of BISHOP I was contacted by the PR rep for a band named Hard Soul. After getting a pre-release listen to their newest EP Fairer Shores, I knew I had to do a review for Mixolydian. Also hailing from Albany, Hard Soul formed in 2011 and consists of Johnny Salka (vocals/lead guitar); Nick Kossor (guitar); Ryan Klaeysen (bass guitar); Mark Podbielski (drums); and Stephen Thompson (guitar/backing vocals).
Fairer Shores (and the current tour to support it) was entirely crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and based on the finished product, the donators clearly knew that they were investing wisely.
It is an album that delivers great melodic hooks, passionate and poetic lyrics (focusing heavily on romantic relationships), great instrumental exploration, and ultimately a very approachable rock sound. Since this is an EP, there are only four songs (divided like old school vinyl with the A side being heavy and the B side being lighter in tone). Let’s go ahead and explore each track one-by-one:
1. The Sweetest Heart This opening track (and lead single from the EP) instantly hits you with great melody in the verse and chorus. Right away you can feel the song getting caught inside your head. This is SO hard to do, as bands with a more radio friendly sound often struggle to get that great hook that everybody remembers. The drums and bass hold the line as the song pulls you to increasingly higher elevations. The other standout melodic portion of this song involves the guitars. The rhythm guitar track plays the chords with just the right amount of attack, and the lead lines explode onto the track as the song reaches its apex. This song reminds me of a lot of the bands I listened to growing up in Southern California, bands like Yellowcard and others. I was able to relive some nostalgia of warm summer nights when I didn’t have much to worry about other than playing my guitar. Ultimately this song put a huge smile on my face, what a great way to open the EP.
2. It’s All Gone Wrong As the title might suggest, this song is a more lamenting track (specifically about the end of a relationship). The power behind the vocals (backing and lead), the driving force of the rhythm section, the distorted and flowing chords in the rhythm guitar, and the constant melodic interjections from the lead guitar make the song a beautiful and strong track. Sadness is an inevitable part of life, and hell, we have all had broken hearts which makes a song like this so relatable. Lyrics like “say goodbye to yesterday” ring in this track like a call to action, to not dwell on the rage and hurt. You don’t feel depressed listening to this, which is interesting as break-up songs tend to go in that emo direction. Kudos guys for an anthemic lament.
3. Fairer Shores This song kicks off the B side, so there is a clear shift to softer tones (i.e. acoustic). The lyrics play out in this song like a page from a novel, heavy with metaphors (that’s a good thing). The tempo is moderate and is a way of almost serving as thematic counterpoint to the previous song. Here the vocalist is speaking to a current love, perhaps at the beginning of a more serious relationship. The instrumentation allows for some great harmonic interaction between the string instruments. The backing vocal harmonies are a wonderful part of this track, which create easy to repeat melodic hooks.
4. Have To Be A Miracle This track feels like a closing track. It is hard to explain, but there is something about it (melodically or otherwise) that makes this song feel like a book closing. The echoing lead guitars, beautiful chord changes, atmospheric sounds, vocal harmonies, notes that explore the top vocal range of Johnny Salka, and lyrics leave you satisfied. I’m reminded of how Brand New ends their second record Déjà Entendu as there is a similar finality, but at the same time allowing for another story to be told.
Discovering bands like Hard Soul makes my work as a music journalist so worth it. I am very glad to know the music of this band and share it with you guys in this review. All that’s left is for you to give it a listen and a purchase when Fairer Shores releases on February 24th to support this amazing band!
Hard Soul can be found at: