December 22, 2009 | 2:00pm
Wyman Gentry and Jason Ogle have no problem getting all emotive--and even a bit pious. Rocking together in an Orange County-based guitar duo called Ralph Hinkley Syndrome, their sound encompasses all the virtues of coffee-house rock, right down to the strategically uplifting harmonies and introspective lyrics of love and loss spiced with slivers of Seattle grunge. And then there's the spirituality.
Ralph Hinkley Syndrome's self-titled full-length--released via iTunes in January but streaming now on their MySpace
page--opens with a static wave of pops and hisses that actually sound like someone firing up a cappuccino machine. Then the album eases into first track "Waiting," a sleepy deluge of plucky guitar and delicate vocals that spill into a thick chorus of layered harmonies, slightly dated but full of gusto. Drum and bass jam along with Gentry and Ogle's acoustic chords and occasional stabs of electric guitar noodling.
Things take on a major '90s twist with "Lombard Street," as mounting tension and Ogle's growling grit explodes into a flannel-centric chorus with Gentry's shimmering vocal support: "Hey, and if I'm fallin' down," he intones, "help me back into my Father's arms." It's one of a handful of songs on the album that break from the duo's dreamy guy-with-a-guitar aesthetic. Other electric-driven picker-uppers include "My Eyes Have Hands" and "My Fleeting Habit".
Ralph Hinkley Syndrome take their name from the lead character on the short-lived '80s TV series The Greatest American Hero. Despite his good intentions, Ralph continuously fails at becoming a superhero. "He learns to fly, yet never learns how to land and crashes hard every time," reads the band's MySpace explanation. Basically the musicians are saying the band name symbolizes the fact that all people, despite their best intentions to do good, eventually fail despite an innate need for perfection. And it is only until humans look outside themselves and towards the "divine (God)" that they realize the only true perfection is in Him. Yes, it's deep, man.
Anyway, you can see how this kind of philosophy plays out in the religious undertones of their last song "On Fire." It's awash with New Age-y Christian motifs, dabbed with Cobain-esque self-loathing and weathered vocals as Ogle sings "I wanna be on fire for you." We're guessing the singer's talking about being a martyr for the big guy upstairs. So, if you're looking for passionate, acoustic-driven rock with healthy serving of Christian guilt, this album is a pretty solid local offering.