Manalapan, NJ artist Johnny Oak has a tough row to hoe in his songwriting choice of three-minute pop rock served up by his band Cascadence. Their “sounds like” influences include Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Fall Out Boy, Journey and Nickelback. These are all choices I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole in my quest for modern credibility but that’s where the listener gets to choose for him or herself and actually witness the metamorphic stages of a rock band and the tiny spark that fires them to greater places. Out of the corniest band crushes comes the best developmental phase of the rock and roll writer’s career.
Cascadence are a combination of the words cascade and cadence, both chosen and united to reflect their talent at creating hook-laden music infused with a superb rhythmic attack. The music is reflected in the band’s motto; “Easy to remember and difficult to forget.” Dar Franks (drums/vocals) and Bryan Vitalo (bass/vocals) are the other key members that turn Cascadence into a curious and powerful rock and roll machine. Their personal influences are as diverse as their approach to playing. Favorites include Jimmy Eat World, Racer X and even good ole’ Phil Collins and his greatest hits.
However they make it work, Cascadence has come fast and furious out of the gate, garnishing a top slot on ReverbNation’s Microsoft Windows 7 promotion with over 14,000 downloads in a single month. They’ve also maintained steady airplay on Jersey rock radio icons 105.5 WDHA, 95.9 WRAT, as well as nice scores of “Top Rock Band” and “Top Drummer” in the 2011 Asbury Music Awards. The band also hit the road with a direct support slot on Faster Pussycat’s national summer tour. Add the additional perk of sponsors such as SIT Strings, WB Gear, Intune and others, and you have the makings of a band with solid, upward momentum.
The band is working on their full-length disc as of this writing, but in the meantime, they have gone ahead and released an EP for the impatient fan. The more I sat and listened to the music, the more I saw where this band was coming from.
Produced by Johnny Oak, the self-titled disc is clean, crisp and centered in their passion for hair metal composition. But don’t think about that in a negative way because Oak and company are extremely cunning hook writers. Johnny Oak knows exactly where and when to pull punches and the choruses he comes up with will get even the most stoic hipster tapping their all-star covered toes in seconds.
The EP is a quick, five-song platter coming in at a total runtime of 16:10. What they lack in content they make up for in construction brilliance. The disc explodes with “Let’s Get Ready,” a Def Leppard-influenced rallying cry to action. Oak wastes no time as he kicks off the song with the namesake chorus chant. Guitars chop and cut behind the four-on-the-floor muscle of Franks and Vitalo as they push this song like a bulldozer. Oak definitely has the right pipes for this style and his voice runs the full gamut of range on the disc opener. I also took note that the band chose to stay grounded in this recording, sticking with true, three-piece ingenuity instead of grandiose overdubs and unnecessary clutter. “Let’s Get Ready” has a great traditional hook and I caught myself replaying it several times.
“Never Thought” features funky synth pads and glistening pianos that made me feel like I could be right in the middle of a Night Ranger video before the band shifted gears and kicked into a smart, power chord-dominated chorus that had me going back to listen more than once. This is a band that knows how to go out on a limb and climb back without falling. Their skill at knowing what puzzle piece fits best and putting the right dynamic color into a body of music is something that every band looking to be successful should be watching closely.
“The First Time” is the score of the disc. Ultra poppy and filled with a hundred hooks, you couldn’t hate this song if they smacked you in the face with it. Dar Franks pounds this radio-friendly gem all the way to the bank as Oak chugs thick bar chords before rolling out a doubled pentatonic blitzkrieg that would send Jake E. Lee straight to the showers. Remnants of The Cult and Matthew Sweet rise within the structure of this bona-fide hit song.
If you like Enuff Z‘Nuff and Winger you’re gonna love “Jaded.” Johnny fires from the leather-clad hip on this ode to a time before Nirvana snuffed the life out of spandex. While the song is decent, verses are fairly nondescript, as the band members take turns throwing their signature sounds and style into the warm up stages. The chorus is strong here as it is on all cuts, but it doesn’t really lift this tune out of the inattention bin.
The bridge leads are a welcome high point and so over the top they would make for a really edgy rock guitar battle with the Schenker brothers. And with the amount of harmony riff work involved here, Michael and Rudolf would probably lose. By the way, those guys are from a band called Scorpions—just in case that joke threw you off course.
“Break Out” closes the CD and once again, I get the feeling that Cascadence really believes in what they do. Their infusion of technique and enthusiastic attitude drives this song hard. I love the heavy duty rhythms that Franks and Vitalo nail to the proverbial floor as Oak slashes crunchy, Marshall-driven chords and distorted blues riffs in and out of the song with surgeon-like precision. The harmonies stick like crazy glue as Oak reaches all the way to the top of his wide range on this grunge covered nugget.
Cascadence are an anomaly in the current music scene. At times sounding retro, they also come across as a band that possess fresh ideas and genuine buzz that’s lacking from many “jaded” rockers out there today.
I recently watched them play at the Seaside Music Festival and their presence kept the crowded Aztec Lounge focused on the stage and on their music, which is as tight live as it is on disc.
Stripped down, lean and mean is what this band is and their music mirrors the traditional approach of less is much more in a satisfactory way for me. Of course there is always room for improvement and the one small suggestion I would make would be to keep writing more songs like “The First Time.”
Popular music trends switch constantly and Cascadence are a band that has enough diversity and crossover appeal to actually have some measure of success in the confusing world of pop music.
Cascadence will be appearing live in NYC on Aug. 29 at the Bowery Electric. For more information on the band, the CD, and the next stage of their illustrious career, head over to cascadencemusic.com/band.cfm
(Photo credit: Lizz Winona Photography)