Continuing the trend of rock and metal bands spelling their names incorrectly, Sek’ndhand Smoke are here to rock with their self-titled EP (2010). According to their bio, they play “simple, no frills, rock and roll”. The band has extensively toured throughout Oregon, California, and Washington, and they’ve also built a following through promoting their Youtube videos. With hard rock influences like Guns n’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana, we can expect nothing less than an unpredictable, dangerous outing from this rock trio.
Starting with “Ambivalence”, right away it’s clear that the production is subpar, and you can even hear the bass levels clicking. Often. Sometimes subpar garage recordings work well for rock music, but in this case it just sounds like the guys should have definitely gone to a better studio to capture their sound. The guitars are muddy, and this is typical of cheap demos. Zachary Dunlap’s vocals are definitely inspired more by glam rock and hard rock than by emotionally charged grunge acts like Nirvana. The issue is, he doesn’t currently have the range to tackle this style of music. What you get in the end sounds like karaoke, with the vocals being frequently out of key, and the screams and wails adding more awkwardness than intensity to the songs.
Of course, rock is a safe haven for the tone-deaf. However, the unspoken rule is that you have to compensate with swagger and charisma, and it’s not here unfortunately. “Bitter” opens with an old school inspired punk rock guitar riff but doesn’t really go anywhere when it could have been an anthem for the left behind. The high screams at the end show the band starting to gain some steam.
“It’s Gone” tries a different, more bluesy approach, but the musicianship and vocals hold it back once again. The attempt at emotional lyrics comes across as disconnected, and the extra “ay-yay” at the end of every other line brings extra layers of cheesiness to even the album’s ballad. Then there’s the line “What does it matter if it’s go-wa-wa-wa-one?” “R & R” ups the ante and the tempo, but none of the elements are working here. All elements are subpar, and it inevitably makes for an unsatisfying final product. “Riding Free” offers a bit more consistency in both the playing and the vocal range, and shows some potential if Sek’nd Hand Smoke were to write a new batch of tunes and record a stronger release.
Sek’nd Hand Smoke’s self-titled EP is rife with issues. The playing sounds amateur. The vocals are both cheesy and out-of-touch. The recording sounds amateur. The songs are typical and predictable, and not dangerous in the least. If there’s one sin in rock n’ roll, it’s to remove the danger and make it safe. Sek’nd Hand Smoke may be a decent pub band, but they have some serious practising to do before they impress the world on record. Respect goes out to the band for trying, but this is not ready for mass consumption.