Icon For Hire – Scripted (2011)

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Music

Between Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Lady GaGa, modern pop music is due for an overhaul. In fact, it’s about time someone barged through the door with a little more oomph and energy to kick the scene square in the ass.

Enter Icon For Hire, the latest boot-wearing saviors set on changing the face of modern pop/rock as we know it. Hailing from Decatur, Illinois, the mononymous Ariel (vocals), the mohawked Shawn Jump (guitar) and Adam Kronshagen (drums) are unleashing their debut album Scripted August 23, 2011 on Tooth & Nail Records.

In a radio world of digitized drum beats and boring sing-a-longs, Icon For Hire have a huge responsibility placed upon them, yet seem to be up for the challenge. Playing a brand of music that fuses pop, rock, heavy metal, electroclash, and punk, the midwestern trio seem hellbent on recreating a vibe not seen since Garbage and the early days of Paramore. The journey began back in 2007, and since then the band has built a following the good old fashioned way – by doing it themselves and playing everywhere they could throughout the midwest – but when major players Tooth & Nail came knocking, they had to answer the door.

Stated the band upon their signing. “It’s a label that has a history of consistently putting out good music and really working side by side with their artists. Because we’ve been doing this thing on our own for over two years, it feels great to partner with [them]. We can’t wait to record our debut full-length and see where this road takes us.”

The first stretch of that road is now upon them, and with the full-length ready to hit the masses, we thought we’d come along for the ride.

After a brief intro, or “Overture” we get right into the thick of things with “Theater,” a nice balance of heavy drums and guitars with softer vocals from Ariel. She doesn’t stay quiet for long, though. The chorus is belted out in grand style, and she has the perfect female pitch for this style of rock. It’s not operatic, and it’s not jagged. If I had to draw a comparison, I would place it somewhere between Gwen Stefani’s exuberance and Amy Lee’s (Evanescence) beauty. Her voice is strong and noticeable – and for the RIGHT reasons.

“Make A Move,” the album’s first single, carries a much more mainstream sound, but maintains a heavier, guitar-laden feel. A few production tricks and effects shine this track up, but the glow comes, again, from the vocals. It’s hard to believe this gal has been out there singing for four years and we are just now hearing about her.

A nice electronic introduction pops off “Get Well,” which has a little more of an instrumental showcase going on, but still hangs its hat on the songwriting. The production here is also pretty slick (which it has to be to create such massive sound from just three band members) – a credit to producer Aaron Sprinkle (Deftones, MxPx) who has everything in perfect balance here.

And speaking of balance, Icon For Hire throw in a softer rock ballad next in “The Grey.” Vocals and pianos start the track, which builds itself with flowing strings, and later some heavier guitars. Had we not already mentioned Evanescence, we would be name dropping them here, as you can’t help but be reminded of them. It doesn’t take anything away from the track at all, though, as this was a beautiful piece.

“Off With Her Head” is a near-industrial sounding track that, for the first time I found myself not so caught up in the vocals, instead nodding my head to the infectious drum beats and hammering guitar chords. It might be a little too hard for pop radio, but for me, this was the strongest track on the disc.

A more obvious radio-friendly track was “Fight,” a love song hidden underneath a pretty strong, tight rock anthem. With a positive message of believing in one’s self, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see this being the next single/video off the album. If their was anything to complain about, it was the harmonies. I’m not a big fan of layering the lead singer’s vocals over the lead singer’s backing vocals, but without another female in the band, you do what you have to.

“Up In Flames” has Ariel sounding a bit more raw, almost punk-ish at times. It was a nice change from the soaring vocals that have owned the disc up until now. The energy and angst is matched perfectly with a more simple, stripped down guitar and drum, and it all takes the band to a different, yet extremely enjoyable, plateau.

The band gets very pop-heavy with the structure and vocals in “Iodine.” Where the rest of the album has mostly felt inspired and fist-pumping, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down here. For me, it was too reminiscent of the modern pop scene, where you get everyone from Britney to Christina throwing a guitar riff over a top 40 song and calling it edgy. In comparison to the rest of the album, this one missed – and by a pretty large margin.

“Only A Memory” slows things down again with the same type of treatment given to “The Grey” earlier in the session. The vocals are a little more airy and wispy this time through, and it adds a grand sense of personality to the track. The keyboards add a great element again as well, but we’ll talk about that here in a bit…

The album closes with another solid track in “Pieces,” a mid-tempo rocker that lets you hear every note and nuance from every instrument involved, and has Ariel shining as bright as ever. A great bombastic finish to a very respectable release, but leads me into the two concerns I have about it.

My first issue is the fact that the band is listed as a three-piece but obviously recorded the sound of a five-piece. I haven’t seen them live, so I don’t know how many actually take the stage, but after listening through the album a few times, there is far too much bass and keyboard highlights to not have a full-time member at each station. Even the video below has four members, so call me confused, I guess…

Secondly, while just about every track on this album ranged from good to excellent, I’m not exactly sure where it will land on the vast map of music. It’s a little on the “heavy” side for Casey Kasem, but maybe not “heavy” enough for the hard rock/heavy metal circles. Pair that with the fact that be band “looks” to be punk, but carries a sound closer to alternative metal, and you can hopefully understand my conundrum. That said, great music usually carves its own niche into one scene or the other, so we’ll just have to see where Icon For Hire inevitably take residence.

Wherever that ends up being, this record is a mansion and, on the strength of its songwriting and fine composition, should be the best house on the block.

7.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Overture
2. Theater
3. Make A Move
4. Get Well
5. The Grey
6. Off With Her Head
7. Fight
8. Up In Flames
9. Iodine
10. Only A Memory
11. Pieces

Buy it at Amazon

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Comments
  1. What a wonderful album! You can really tell that Icon For Hire put a lot of soul into this album. An amazing blend of electronic and rock! These guys are all talented musicians, and I’m very ecstatic that I purchased their album.
    Trust me, buy this album. In fact, I’m listening to this album right now while drinking a Dr. Pepper, and I don’t even care that it’s only Tuesday and I’m stuck at work. That’s how good Icon For Hire’s music makes me feel.

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