Friday, November 15, 2013

Review: Slack Armada - Slack Armada

So oftentimes the story of an artist’s journey is fraught with pain and suffering. They’ve found themselves at the bottom and, needing an outlet to express their deep emotions, they turn to music and create stirring works that move the soul.

And then there’s James Hrabak of Slack Armada.
For fifteen years, Hrabak didn’t play any music, content with his life of domesticity, happy in a fulfilling job and at home. Yet, the chance mail delivery of a music instruments catalog would change the rising artist’s perspective and he found his creative spirit reawakened.

“There was an aligning of the planets,” the Chicago-based composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist says with a chuckle. “My personal life was becoming less hectic and I had time to dedicate to music, so I looked into recording software and pulled the guitar out of the closet to see what I could do.”
The result is the four song, self-titled debut from Slack Armada, an instrumental collection that recalls acts like Four Tet, Mogwai, and Boards of Canada while seeing Hrabak infuse his own creative juices into the process. It’s something of a cinematic experience once you get into it and the artist wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Not using vocals wasn’t a conscious decision at the beginning,” Hrabak explains. “As I was building up the tracks, I thought ‘Maybe I can make the music speak to somebody without that additional guide of a human voice.’ I wanted to let the listener be transported with fewer guideposts.”
By and large, it’s an experiment that works.

Hrabak gets things started with the tightly programmed beats and synth fills of “Rebirth.” It’s a slightly ethereal and ambient track initially, the thrumming beats the only real texture against subtle keyboards but garners some much needed emotion when crunchy electric guitars close in later on. The track pauses for just a moment and there is a moment of rebirth, so to speak, as the sound transforms, a new beat holding sway as airy synth again swells through the arrangement.
“Your Majesty” delivers a little more emotion to the proceedings right from the get-go, multilayered sonic textures melding together and creating a sense of suspense and intrigue, the swirling keyboards stepping forth although Hrabak’s synth fills seem a little out of place here until bright bell tones enter the fray and serve as a connecting point, moving the track from intrigue to a sense of wonder. It’s not for long though as the track ebbs and flows between the two emotions before “Looper” steps in with its raucous tones. More crunchy guitar and heavy, pounding drums give the album a rocking lift, the relentless press Hrabak’s composition only lightening toward the end, the guitars giving way to electronic distortion.

"Escape Velocity” closes things out and, as one might expect from the title, is another action-packed track. Throbbing, pulsing electronic beats open things up before more conventional percussion joins in, the sound building and pressing in upon the listener’s ears, guitars eventually finding their way into the mix to provide the melody line, rich and inviting before abruptly coming to a complete close.
James Hrabak’s debut, Slack Armada, is a compelling piece of work for fans of more cerebral and ambient soundtracks. Blending elements of electronica together with dramatic flair, he has crafted four compelling songs that, while perhaps not set to appeal to the masses, will definitely provide enjoyment for those willing to listen. And with the promise of a vocal project coming as well, the future is bright for this rising star.


  1. Andrew,

    Thank you so much for the thoughtful review. I greatly appreciate. One minor thing: my last name is misspelled a couple of times. It's Hrabak. No worries, it's a tough one.

    Jim Hrabak

  2. James! So, so sorry about that! It's like my mind switched off mid-review and I didn't even catch it when I went back over things!

    But alas, all is fixed now and I'm glad you liked the review. Really appreciated the approach you took and I'm looking forward to hearing the vocal project...