Let’s have a quick chat. This is gonna be one of those after-school special type chats, so pull up a small plastic chair with metal legs, and let’s go for it.
You see, I’m fighting tooth and nail to not do the thing where I describe an artist by comparing them to a different artist. Overall, I don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with the practice in theory. In fact, I think that it can be effective, especially when discussing a lesser-known artist in terms of a more well-known artist. For example, a hypothetical review: “John Q. MusicArtist sounds smooth, subtle and sweet, like Ed Sheeran did on his first album, +… before his later releases made me want to dip him in a vat of rubber cement, followed by a vat of actual cement”.
See how well that worked? The problem is that I had a tendency to go to the well far too often, because I’m a lazy bastard. I’d make artist comparisons quite liberally, sometimes mentioning several artists in one go. In doing so, I would sometimes lose sight of what each individual artist brought to the table – and that wasn’t cool.
Don’t get me wrong: I will do this again, as there is a good time and place for it. But I’m going to try to focus primarily on the artist, their sound, their previous albums, their accomplishments, etc. Good or bad, every artist at least deserves a fair shake.
Which brings me to Icon For Hire.
Founded by lead vocalist Ariel Bloomer and guitarist Shawn Jump, the band included bassist Joshua Davis and drummer Adam Kronshagen, before settling in as a duo with Bloomer and Jump before the release of their third album, You Can’t Kill Us, in November 2016. They have had solid success, with their first three studio albums all reaching the Billboard 200 album charts, as well as a top-20 peak on the Alternative album charts. Despite that, the band was placed into a corner by reviewers and critics, going so far as to require a “Comparisons to other rock bands” section on their Wikipedia page.
This is, for lack of better words, horseshit. So let me try to do better.
Currently situated in Nashville, by way of Decatur, Illinois, Icon For Hire is not so much a synth rock band, but more so a rock band with synth elements. The electronic elements intermingle seamlessly with the driving guitar, as has been the case since their first release, Scripted, in August 2011. However, this time around, Ariel Bloomer and Shawn Jump have opted for a bit of a darker sound, to great effect.
Listening to each album chronologically, you can hear the improvements and maturity with each iteration. That level of comfort allows for a bit of experimentation, such as Bloomer dipping her toe into the rap game with a strong showing on “Panic Attacks” – and admittedly a not-so-strong showing on the label-bashing “Impossibles & Obstacles (Interlude)”. Bloomer also opts for a wonderful stripped-down, piano-only approach on “Thirteen (Interlude)”, giving off vibes of the duo’s acoustic album from December 2018, Still Can’t Kill Us.
But the duo’s meat-and-potatoes sound is the best it’s been. My favorite track on the album, “Curse Or Cure”, hits all the signature high notes: the aforementioned driving guitar and the electronic elements feature prominently, and Ariel Bloomer’s powerful vocals cut through just enough to be the star of the show, without trying to do too much. The lyrics fit the mood of the music extremely well too: “How can I separate me from the remedy? / I can’t be sure, be sure / Am I the curse or the cure?” If there is a track that I would point to on the album as being quintessentially Icon For Hire, it would be “Curse Or Cure” without a doubt.
Icon For Hire is one that should definitely be on your radar – based solely on their own merit. Also, I’d like to give a hearty FKA shout-out to my good friend, who shall remain nameless, for hipping me to this band.
FFO: Next time, FFO. Next time.