Ohio production duo The Kickdrums are notorious for spending hours in recording studios to achieve just the right sound. That diligence has led to an energetic, percussion-friendly sound embraced by many Hip Hop artists, ranging from Slaughterhouse [click to read] to 50 Cent [click to read]. However, that trademark style is surprisingly not the dominant sound of The Kickdrums’ Just A Game EP. As recording artists, the duo of Alex Fitts and Matt Penttila are not just creative Hip Hop producers. They are Rock stars.<<>p>

The Kickdrums stretch beyond their pedigree, as their always-melodic sound embraces alternative influences for Just A Game. Singer/songwriter Fitts adds a wavy tone to most songs, occasionally sounding like a carefree Thom Yorke or Beck. His low-tone crooning set to the ghostly “Personal Calamity” is particularly Radiohead-esque. However, The Kickdrums are not simply another “Hey, they sound like…” band. Vocals on the EP’s title track may remind listeners of popular British band leaders, but the melody is too strong to notice or care once the music picks up. Fitt‘s breezy voice glides over the guitar, bells, trumpets, and Rap-friendly drum programming. The powerful combination makes for an engaging song with Rock bones and a Hip Hop spirit.

Though Just A Game is closest to the Rock family of music, The Kickdrums do not divorce themselves completely from Hip Hop. A few songs on the 10-track EP easily could have been hip-hop beats had the producers veered in a slightly different direction. The classic kick-kick-snare drum pattern and piano loop of “Things Work Out” closely-resemble familiar tricks in Rap’s expansive catalogue. Meanwhile, “When I Come Down” feels like like a Screwed session from The Beastie Boys‘ Check Your Head years, with commanding vocals and songwriting. “Mental Traveler” is also a clever tribute to Rap sample icon and composer genius David Axelrod. Although the duo splashes their own lyrics to make an angst-ridden hit, the music channels the original samples for Diamond D‘s [click to read] remix to Ras Kass‘ [click to read] “Soul On Ice” and Eminem‘s “Any Man.”

Just A Game is as sharp lyrically as it is sonically. Fitts‘ writing style draws a nice middle ground of artistry; it’s neither lazily direct nor unnecessarily complex. He pens catchy lyrics that are open to interpretation or clearly not to be taken in literal terms. The style plays especially well on the bass-happy “Out to Get Me!” Fitts seems unduly suspicious at first but he’s actually dealing with a common emotion as he sings, “I’ve got this paranoid feeling/It makes me shiver to the core/Tomorrow I’ll just be a picture/Just another memory in a drawer.” It’s an honest confession many will be able to relate to as the theme of the song plays out, a common thread of the album’s lyrics.

The Kickdrums’ turn as recording artists is effective though surprising. Fitts and Penttila‘s production style typically blends hip-hop with a well of diverse, upbeat sources. Just A Game flips that plan and channels those influences into a rock-rooted album suited for various moods and venues. The Kickdrums have already proven themselves capable as producers and remix masters; their debut EP proves that they are well-versed in all levels of music-making.