Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
There are always a handful of albums that slip under the radar, for me often causing a strain of regret since I did not discover them timely enough for an inclusion in either of my past two “Best Albums of the Year” features. I have learned to grow somewhat accustomed to this though, as it is impossible to look at literally every release from a given year and provide it with accurate critical judgment. The best I can do is take note of the artist and, if the release proves memorable enough, attempt to write a feature pertaining to the release in the future. Due to qualms of a forgetful memory, this approach is a lot easier to grasp when a respective artist puts out another release less than a year after the preceding release that granted me with such exposure-based regret. This is the case with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter‘s newest EP, The Gentleness of Nothing, and her outstanding album from 2007, Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul. To be honest with you, I was holding out on featuring this gem from last year for a few months now, ever since I learned that Sykes was in the studio and working on The Gentleness of Nothing with her backing band, The Sweet Hereafter. My intentions were to expose two fantastic releases simultaneously, and the quality of The Gentleness of Nothing certainly looks to make my attempt bode well.
With her uniquely invigorating vocals and talented array of songwriting, Jesse Sykes certainly makes her presence known as the frontwoman. However, she would also be the first to tell you that the amount of collaboration involved in her group’s songs are extremely valued. A vital force in the work of Jesse Sykes is guitarist Phil Wandscher, known to some as the former guitarist in the Ryan Adams-fronted Whiskeytown. Wandscher and Sykes met in a Seattle dive bar in 1998, both searching for a new project to undertake after the dissolution of their previous groups, Whiskeytown and Hominy, respectfully. Hominy was the outfit that Sykes fronted with her then-husband Jim, with the band and marriage fading around the same time she met Wandscher. The meeting was mutually productive, as both musicians immediately felt comfort in their artistically similar dispositions and search for something new and industrious. “I think I knew instantly upon meeting him [Wandscher] that my life would change forever,” Sykes explains. “Together, he and I have been lucky enough to spend our musical partnership with a group of really great, talented people” These talented people she speaks of are the revolving cast of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, a collective of sorts that has revolved constantly around the songwriting prowess of Sykes and Wandscher.
As two songwriters who have worked with a variety of artists that range from Ryan Adams to SUNNO))) and Boris, variety is certainly not an issue when it comes to the work of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. Their eclectic nature has been active ever since the release of their impressive debut, Reckless Burning, in 2002. Though their style has been rooted in a darker, folkier interpretation of country-rock when compared to that of Wandscher’s first expenditure with Whiskeytown, their early origins are occasionally prevalent over other styles centralized in anywhere from psychedelic pop to straightforward rockabilly. Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul, the group’s third album, was their most intricate yet, capitalizing on a variety of eclectic musical styles and horn-laden arrangements that revealed themselves fervently over the tranquilly raspy vocals of Sykes. Though her age and face still relay the signs of a young songwriter, her voice foretells a form of wisdom that is practically vital when it comes to their successful mixture of country-rock, folk, and numerous other genres that descriptively vary based on the track at hand. When this level of lyrical and vocal skill was fused with such profoundly successful stylistic attempts on Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul, the result proved extremely memorable. On Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul, choice cuts like “I Like the Sound” managed to sound serenely psychedelic while also retaining a hint of upbeat with a series of ardently profound guitar solos, while the radio-friendly stomp of “LLL” proved to be a fantastic display of Wandscher’s skilled country-rock etiquette with a series of ardently profound guitar solos that contrasted flawlessly with Sykes’ engrossing vocals.
Now that the group has released a four-track EP, Gentleness of Nothing, as a follow-up to Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul, I saw the time as appropriate as any to talk about the immense talent of this group. The newest batch of songs is opened by “Be It Me, Or Be It None”, a serene track that is led by the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar as several psychedelic components – primarily the cooing backing vocals and tranquil means of production – make their way over a very steady guitar progression. The lyrics and melody remains consistent, but the background additions are what make this track truly worthwhile. The EP’s title track stretches over nine minutes, as it makes it way from a gentle guitar-led procession to a vigorously electric section where the group’s rock-oriented fixations are revealed. The transition is seamless though, seeing nothing in the way of stylistic or tonal indecisiveness. My favorite on the EP, though, is “In the Summertime”, a bouncily enjoyable effort that sees a guitar solo and progression overlap over a very dynamic rhythm section to create one of the group’s catchiest efforts to date. This EP is entirely worthwhile, but I still strongly urge anyone interested to check out Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul for a lengthier and more descriptive account of this group’s undeniable talent.