Audible: Sky Signal

Audible
Sky Signal
Polyvinyl
2005-01-25

Audible is the little solo four-track side project that could. Originally started by Mike Kennedy in 2000 before he became the drummer for matt pond PA, Audible has grown from being merely a sketchpad for Kennedy’s own songs into a fully functional band. After parting ways with matt pond PA in 2003, Kennedy took guitarist and childhood friend Jim Kehoe with him, and along with former and current girlfriends Mary Garito (vocals, keyboards) and Kristine Muller (bass, vocals) recorded Sky Signal, Audible’s first full-length release.

Fans of mpPA will certainly find much to like about Sky Signal, but while there are similarities between the two bands for obvious reasons, Audible is no mpPA version II. Kennedy’s songs are oddly poppy and accessible yet retain a kind of off-kilter, other-worldly vibe to them. Sky Signal doesn’t paint itself into a corner by adhering to any one particular style, and while there are certainly echoes of 80’s synth-pop, indie-rock, and shoegazer influences at play on its ten tracks, the album’s continuous strength lies in the solid foundation of Kennedy’s acoustic guitar and vocals. Also, the man simply has a knack for writing instantly memorable songs that you’ll be humming to yourself after just one listen.

Opening track “October Song” starts off with a catchy acoustic guitar riff and Kennedy’s falsetto vocals floating weightlessly over it. Sean Byrnes’ insistent drumming kicks the song into drive, and the addition of e-bowed guitar and some tasteful Rhodes piano adds nicely to the ghostliness of the tune. Yeah it’s ridiculously hooky, but it’s poppy in a The Head on the Door – era Cure way, rather than the straight verse-chorus-verse traditional pop format. Fortunately Kennedy never falls back on clichés or takes the easy way out.

Sky Signal recalls the early, heady days of indie-rock when bands just made music without thinking too hard about it first; this is what makes the album such a rewarding listen. I don’t think Kennedy could explain how he does what he does, I believe he just instinctively knows, and this is the mark of a true original. There’s always an element of surprise to his songwriting, but the tracks never become a chore to listen to or get too clever just for the sake of being clever.

I’m simply blown away by how the band can be so gentle on the Nick Drake-like “From the Third Floor”, and then really muscle it up on “Sound Makes a Circle”, which is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. Credit should also go to Brian McTear, who co-produced/engineered Sky Signal. McTear is rapidly becoming THE guy to work with among the Philly-based bands and it’s easy to hear why. He has a great ear and doesn’t feel the need to leave his stamp all over the music.

Of course, I can’t say enough about the quality of Mike Kennedy’s songs. Listening to them, I can’t help but feel that there is something incredibly special going on here and it’s only the first album (not counting the two split CD’s previously released). Everything seems so effortless and perfect. I don’t normally get this gushy over an album, but this is the real thing. It doesn’t come along very often, so go buy Sky Signal and restore your faith in original, independent music.

RATING 9 / 10
PopMatters