New year, but some things stay the same. The familiar pink hue of "Starlight's Guide" is a reminder of what the last year has brought to the forefront. UK multi-instrumentalist Joe Hawker surprised many listeners along the way with his combination of post rock, doom metal, and sparkling symphonic elements, including an office full of egotistical, elitist metalheads. His musical skill is matched only by his conceptual acumen, his artwork becoming as easily recognizable as his sound, something that may be an under appreciated talent. So as his new three song EP rushes through the tubes of the internet, pink tinted cover and all, you can be sure you'll have something familiar but new, something edgy but solid. Hawker wouldn't want it any other way. Originally conceived as part of a split with Courtsleet, you have the chance to hear it on it's own two feet. The follow up to 2013's brilliantly conceived self titled debut, "Starlight's Guide" is every bit as breathtaking as it's predecessor, but with a notable layer of fresh air to bring it all together.
If "Illuminance" has any one flaw, and it could be only one, it is the layering in the mix, making much of the instrumentation sound distant. As the track builds to a peak, however, Hawker finds his home right in the meaty part of the spectrum, bringing together the melodic guitar tones he so thoughtfully crafts with a pounding drum kit and angst ridden screams. He succeeds here where others have failed, using his deep talent pool to hide the lack of true professional production. The triumphant yet dark nature of the melody that surrounds the six minute mark is rock solid and stands out from the track on the whole. There is no shortage of creativity here, as Hawker uses a bevy of synthesizers to bring life and energy to his main theme. It is never a choice between styles, but a fusion of all things, as you get on "Guiding Light." His focus is on flowing the pieces together, instead of making oddly shaped passages collide. As the track moves from light to dark, soft to heavy, there is no break between; they become one. His screams are not the star, but a supporting player in the grand scope. Much like it's predecessor, the signature moment here is one of wonder and crushing blows, centered around the seven minute point. And although it stands at half the length of it's two album mates, "Memories In The Mist" is as compelling and enthralling as anything you could want, solidifying itself as, arguably, the finest moment in Hawker's growing career.
It seems odd to say that we were, a short six months ago, having the very same feelings about another release from Hawker. He has a way of stirring up familiar emotions without seeming over done or contrived. For that reason, "Starlight's Guide" is sure to please anyone who has ever enjoyed anything the man has done to date. This is exactly what we all know him to be capable of; deep, rich symphonic melodies backing a plodding, deliberate set of riffs and beats. But while he has carried over everything you know and love from the Of Solitude And Solemn name, the one concern from his earlier release has also carried over. The production values have not improved, which could be expected in such a short time since his debut. It's both good and bad, as has been noted before, because he achieves so much with so little financial backing and pressure. But that must be an engineer or studio nearby that is ready to take this sound to the next level of crispness and clarity. Instead of waiting for the next batch of 200 free downloads on his Bandcamp page, maybe it's time we click the "Buy Now" button and get a few dollars, American or otherwise, flowing his way. Joe Hawker is so close. "Starlight's Guide" is the proof.
Bandcamp - http://ofsolitudeandsolemn.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Of-Solitude-and-Solemn/129188580594839