Review Summary: Do you like baseball? Well then you'll at least like the name of someone in Skyramps.
Mark McGwire is a famous baseball player. Mark McGuire is a not so famous member of Cleveland-based improv/noise/ambient/whatever group Emeralds. Daniel Lopatin, better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, is a friend of the latter McGuire. Together, Lopatin and McGuire recorded Days Of Thunder under the name Skyramps which, to quote McGuire, would appeal to anyone who “enjoyed the film Top Gun.” Is this an accurate statement? Yes, actually - far more so than one might first think.
Right off the bat, Lopatin’s synth work is highlighted, and what’s more 80s Top Gun than a synthesizer? Minimalist, cyclic patterns play out on the synthesizer, building a tension just itching to be released. Heavy Terry Riley influence on Lopatin’s playing becomes apparent quickly, but just as that comparison is noticed, McGuire tears a hole in the clouds that the synthesizer had created. Distorted and heavy, McGuire strays from his normal rhythmic playing and goes straight for the melodic jugular, taking the upper range while Lopatin sticks to filling out the bottom end.
The same synth pattern that begins “Flight Simulator” continues throughout the song, but McGuire and Lopatin build on it until it can barely even be heard, the track reaching its most intense point towards the very end - the point where the airplane is flying top speed through the air, careening through heavy, billowing clouds, coming in for a landing only when a clean, rolling guitar line replaces the distortion of the air. This rolling guitar continues into “Dripping Water Hollows Out A Stone,” another track that follows the quiet to loud dynamic model.
The dynamic outline of starting small and progressing toward ever larger crescendos has been done to death, but McGuire and Lopatin somehow manage to extract new emotions from it. The sheer beauty of their playing is enough to cement these songs as original works, not just aping the build to a climax philosophy of so many bands. The sounds present on this album truly feel as though they are the music clouds would make in response to airplanes roaring past them - mesmerizing synthesizer patterns and guitar-work that becomes soothing in its constant rhythmic rolling and thrumming along with the tempo of the song. No drums are present, but McGuire’s guitar keeps time just as well as any drum machine might.
Top Gun ended up being an accurate point of reference for Skyramps’ first album together, but not due to anything remotely cheesy or Tom Cruise-based. The Top Gun reference works because the beauty of flight portrayed in the film translates directly to the beauty of the music present on Days Of Thunder - ethereal, floating, yet amazingly poignant and certain to be remembered for a long time to come.