Hey!Tonal – Hey!Tonal

4 out of 5

Produced by: Mitch Cheney & Alan Mills

Label: Africantape

With a dash of Skin Grafty-drone a la Brise-Glase or Yona Kit, Hey!Tonal sturm & drang and bleep & bloop for 8 tracks, which is all too fitting since they share drummer Kevin Shea with the improvisational Don Caballero offshoot Storm & Stress… which is extra extra fitting since the majority of Hey!Tonal falls somewhere between What Burns and American Don era Don Cab.  Did I just describe the most wankstery mix ever?  Perhaps.  But despite jumping on the “funny song title” bandwagon, H!T do carve their own interesting path, even if its littered with the remnants of the bands just mentioned, as well as whatever other comparisons those acts generally bring to mind.  Part of that path-carving is presented via forward momentum: the album continually shuffles between these styles, not in a showy way but organically; these are talented artists who just seem to happen in to like-sounding material, then urge it slightly to the left or right to make it its own thing again before circling back around.  This makes the songs very much worth re-listens: rich as they are with layers, your ears will choose to focus on one given part – bass, drums, etcetera – and then find a different focus the next time through – but, by the same token, it makes the group hard-pressed to actually emerge with wholly defined “tracks.”  Songs have what feel like clear end points which tend to not be their end… and then the bass comes back in, and the drums come back in, and maybe you’ve switched tracks and maybe you haven’t.  If H!T were more improved sounding, this wouldn’t be a detractor, but the sound is aggressive enough that it feels like these were meant to be heard as individual songs, so it’s frustrating that all of the strong points they hit don’t more frequently emerge as a highlightable track.  When they do find that formula – such as Skitch, track 6 – it’s stunning: the song slides between electronic cut-up and instrument noodling with ease.

A bit more commitment to shaping their sound – whether pushing it outward into something more freeform or narrowing it to underline their rockin’-out potential – would’ve made Hey!Tonal’s debut an album-to-know in the instrumental post-rock scene.  As is, it’s an incredibly impressive collection of sounds-that-sound-like-other-sounds, which support and stitch together unique, drone-like passages that the band owns.