Russian guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jake PASHKIN first made a name for himself with the solo album "Prequel" issued late in 2007. "Gain Over" is his sophomore effort and was released at the start of 2009.
Pashkin's debut album was a pretty remarkable affair, especially when considering that it was a solo album by a guy who's first and foremost a guitarist. Blending synths and guitars in quirky, innovative and highly fascinating ways, it really stood out amongst other instrumental albums made by guitarists I've come across over the years. For this follow-up production, Pashkin has left most of the earlier experimental mannerisms. Although not totally left behind, this disc follows much more of a mainstream pattern, with references ranging from vintage hard rock like Wishbone Ash to the guitar fireworks heard in the late 80's releases by Joe Satriani. Pashkin tries, and mostly succeeds, in creating a sound of his own though – at least in regards to mood and atmosphere – and although not all the material can be said to be original in scope it is rarely uninteresting. This is first and foremost due to his soloing, where Pashkin strives to avoid exercise-like scale explorations and dreamy atmospheric passages. Most times this is done by a utilizing a playing style that in my non-musician ears comes across as fluent but slightly fragmented, as well as a guitar sound that is relatively undistorted yet with some grit to it. Those familiar with the guitar may offer better explanations than this though :-) For me the most interesting tracks on this disc are the ones truly standing out from the rest in terms of style or sound. And the third track out, Lost Money, is the first of these: a hard rocking, blues-drenched affair with gritty guitar riffs, extensive use of slide guitars and a brief repeated vocal phrase in a rich and energetic display, with a mid-sequence of acoustic guitars and swirling electronic sounds contrasting with the opening and end themes in a neat and compelling fashion. The following composition Big Deal, with its film score-influenced opening and atmosphere is a real charmer too, and the new age-tinged, dreamy Cassiopeia deserves special mention as well. But the highlight of this venture is called Supermobile. Within the five and a half minutes of this excursion most styles explored on the album are compiled into one effort, with some thrilling guitar themes of various kinds and synth spices thrown in on several of the themes explored in total creating a truly stunning and at times really innovative tune.
Although more mainstream-oriented than his debut, Pashkin's latest effort still explores musical territories containing a fair share of innovative features. The compositions come across as less quirky and innovative overall though, and unlike his debut can't be regarded as a release easily described as progressive – this time around such features are mostly to be found in musical elements and textures only. It's a good album though, and if mostly instrumental guitar music of the hard rock variety is to your liking and you enjoy a few select experimental facets to it, this is a creation that should be right up your alley.
Solo albums by guitarists can often be a matter of delight for practising musicians, and torment for everyone else. Indeed, many of those albums come across as little more as vanity projects, mainly conceived to show off the artist’s technical skills, and generally leaving a lot to be desired on the compositional level (not to mention the emotional one). In this respect, Jake Pashkin will come as a refreshing surprise. Though “Gain Over” is not by any means ground-breaking, it is nonetheless an album that can actually be enjoyed, instead as being viewed as a sort of tutorial. First of all, Pashkin deserves kudos for resisting the urge to set up a one-man band, as many solo musicians seem to be increasingly doing. Though contributing a fair share of the instrumentation (guitars, keyboards and the occasional vocals), he makes good use of a rhythm section which provides a solid background to his guitar forays. Then, the album’s more than manageable running time (under 45 minutes) means that each of its 10 tracks is a nicely self-contained unit, instead of a self-indulgent, sprawling mess. Now, die-hard progressive rock fans may turn up their noses at “Gain Over”, as they usually do at albums of the same kind. Guitar-based efforts, in fact, have an alarming tendency to sound closer to old-fashioned, blues-rooted hard rock than to the epic sweep of classic prog – even notwithstanding the fact that a lot of modern prog is guitar- rather keyboard-oriented. On the other hand, this album offers enough elements of interest to open-minded listeners. Pashkin’s playing style can be surprisingly melodic, and its fluidity and expressiveness reminded me on more than one occasion of one of my favourite guitarists ever, Gary Moore. He can make his guitar sizzle and scream all right, but rarely descends into the dreaded excesses of pointless shredding. Another plus point for “Gain Over” is the variety of the tracks on offer. Far from being a continuous stream of guitar gymnastics, its blends powerful, hard-edged riffs and solos with electronics, a touch of psychedelia, film score music, and even the occasional ambient mood. Though the album is largely instrumental, Pashkin’s own vocals are featured in the catchy chorus of Lost Money, an upbeat, bass-driven effort with some remarkably clear, sharp lead work; while three other tracks feature female voices. In particular, album closer Frozen Air, a moody, rarefied effort liberally sprinkled with weird synth effects sounding like gushing water, is further enhanced by some discreet chanting in the background. Similarly atmospheric, spacey Cassiopeia has a vaguely sci-fi feel; while the dynamic Big Deal is interspersed by loud police siren noises and a recurring spy-movie theme. The likes of Rattlesnake and Supermobile show Pashkin’s harder-edged side, with plenty of wah-wah and other effects, high-pitched, drawn-out notes, and very fast riffing. Holding tight on to the boundaries of good taste, Pashkin never indulges in the blatant self-gratification that can so often be the downfall of instrumental albums. “Gain Over” is a solid effort by a very accomplished musician who knows how to produce quality music.
Though this album’s main appeal will obviously be for guitarists and technique freaks everywhere, those who like their music to have some bite will find a lot to appreciate in it. Even if not terribly innovative, “Gain Over” offers enough interesting ideas to capture a listener’s attention. Jake Pashkin is definitely someone to watch.