Mike Bones is an accomplished guitarist, and a very talented songwriter. We know this because these sentiments are iterated and reiterated in his press release and website. Press releases are generally to be taken with a grain of salt; I usually take no notice of these things, but this particular one caught my eye. It seemed strange to emphasize Mike Bones’ guitar playing skills when his debut effort, The Sky Behind the Sea, is marked by sparse instrumentals and very few instances of intricate guitar work. It’s not uncommon for press releases and official sites to include trumped up accolades, but it’s a little unorthodox to include praise for something that’s almost utterly irrelevant to the album.
Mike Bones may or may not be an excellent guitarist. I wouldn’t know, and that fact would be hard to verify based solely on The Sky Behind the Sea. For the most part, the album is dark and moody, punctuated by very infrequent bursts of energy. The dour and scant instrumentals force the focus onto the vocals. I’m not sure how to put this delicately, so I’ll just be blunt: the vocals are not something that you want to focus on. Bones’s flat intonations and shaky delivery provide very little positive stimulation here.
The Sky Behind the Sea isn’t entirely without its positive attributes. Mikes Bones is a promising songwriter, especially on songs with instrumentals that can be showcased. “Pope John Paul” suffers from glum repetition until an unexpected burst of frenzied instrumental commotion. The soft melodic piano of “My Love For You Is All But Gone” undercuts the harshness of Bones’s voice and actually makes a nice complement, while the first minute of “Town Crier” resonates with poignant sorrow.
Mike Bones is a fine composer and lyricist. He has written a tightly intimate and brooding album, but it’s difficult to make this type of pervasive moodiness captivating. The album’s best moments comes when Bones is focused on the instrumentals. To that end, perhaps Bones will consider playing to his strengths and featuring some of that famous guitar work for his next album.