Jon McKiel may have given birth to a new genre with Tonka War Cloud, and that would be sludge-rock. Sludge implies a certain murkiness, and this is definitely applicable, but McKiel’s excellent song structures keep him from sinking.
If his EP Confidence Lodge (released earlier this year) was any indication, McKiel is a songwriter of enormous talent. His song structures can be endlessly complex or effortlessly simple- whatever he does simply works.
In fact, Tonka War Cloud can almost be divided in half structurally- the first five songs show off more of the sludge side of McKiel’s work, the sixth track acts as somewhat of a tension reliever, while tracks seven through ten show McKiel’s sparser side.
The opening tune “Strands” features deep guitar riffs that will quickly set the tone for the album’s first half. As the density of the music escalates, we get songs like “Fist Fight” which explodes into a crazy guitar solo. That’s followed by “Confidence Lodge” (named after the studio he recorded in, just like his EP) which starts with sinister-sounding guitar riffs and steady drums. The last thirty seconds of the song are probably the most dense on the whole album.
After the string-filled interlude, Tonka War Cloud calms down a little. The song “Violent Hawaii” (a good case of juxtaposition in a song title) is actually a slow and sombre song. It’s followed by “Holy Ghost” which is even more minimalist with tinkling electronics forming a background and the occasional horn. “Death Van” is a stripped-down acoustic song and “Quils” ends the album abruptly.
Tonka War Cloud is an album that takes a few listens to absorb. Once it all soaks in, it will be easy to see McKiel’s music as inimitable.
The album can be streamed or purchased on McKiel’s Bandcamp page.
Top Tracks: “Iceman”; “Violent Hawaii”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*