“Epiphonetics” by Shayne Cook
Talent isn’t enough. Discipline, of course, is necessary. It is all-encompassing passion that propels one talent over another and Shayne Cook has passion to burn. This young Australian born singer-songwriter debuts without a plethora of empty fanfare. His first album Epiphonetics features nine songs with emotional complexity far beyond his years and tastefulness defines its musical sophistication. There is no unusual instrumentation driving or underpinning these tracks. Shayne Cook proves he has an extraordinary talent for pouring old wine into new bottles and the autobiographical nature of his art will likely make a deep impression thanks to its unguarded vulnerability.
One of the key factors helping this album succeed is that Cook utilizes the same cast of musicians throughout the collection. Their presence gives the album aural consistency it might have otherwise lacked and producer Simon Moro underlines it with the unified sonic architecture he imposes on the recording. There is a definite theatrical quality present in tracks such as the opener “The Stawell Gift” but it never lacks musical value. This stark yet dramatic sonic landscape is an ideal setting for a track Cook composed about his father’s time in an orphanage and later adoption. The piano will garner much of listener’s attention, but the weary melancholy of Cook’s vocal and the drums are important elements.
The meditative mood dominating much of “Shouldn’t War” is a bit of musical sleight of hand. It is safe to say, without revealing anything, that Cook overturns listener’s expectations for this track in a decisive way. He carries over the same polished songwriting aesthetic from the first track to this follow-up and it will impress everyone how Cook maintains a steady level of excellence throughout the release. “Matters of the Heart” is the album’s first single. Many listeners will love the soulful and gritty vocals Cook summons for this performance and it fills the top shelf songwriting with a higher sense of stakes than it might otherwise possess.
The string and piano laden slow burn of “Disaster Yet” has a smooth surface belying the turmoil, though final peace, running through its lyrical content. It has a spacious sound, nothing feels or sounds rushed, and the patient unfolding of the performance sets it further apart from other recordings on Epiphonetics. Piano and strings once again sweeten the album’s musical punch during the track “Restless Lovers” and it is one of those tracks where Cook’s debt to Thom Yorke is clear. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can file away this track is limp imitation. He echoes the Radiohead front man without ever mimicking him.
“City Fire Lights” co-opts the same quasi-classical approach we hear during earlier tracks. He chooses to move the cut from an understated opening towards greater and much more orchestrated heights later in the track. You can call Cook’s musical identity art pop, for sure, but labels are inherently useless. He is a singer/songwriter and no other classification fits as well. This track does an exceptional job dramatizing the hunger for self-expression burning in Shayne Cook’s belly That yearning to be heard cuts through every layer of stylization. Epiphonetics is a startling first studio release and there’s no question Shayne Cook has his eyes on sticking around for years to come.