Monday, July 28, 2008

they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters

within the "eminently prolific" subsection of songwriters, there often exists a delicate balance that can either alienate or excite. a counterpoint to the relentless outpouring of music, it is often the case that most of these songs sound extremely similar. john darnielle, a man most of us instantly pinpoint as head honcho of the "eminently prolific" genre, has released over 40 albums, which all sound more or less than same (especially once you discount the varying fidelity). that's why it's enormously refreshing that kenny anderson, another old hand at the prolific game, has released an album that runs against the grain, a challenge to presumably kenny himself as well as his fans. they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters is a vibrant departure that finds anderson embracing an entirely new sound, as well as a new penchant for impossibly long album titles.

king creosote, anderson's recording name, has a reputation for stately, melancholy songs that come out of the gate mostly fully formed, placid backdrops for anderson's verbal talent. bombshell, the scottish folkster's previous album (and his first fresh effort for a major label), was a mild diversion from this course, yet still result in inspired accusations of betrayal by some of the more hardcore creosote fans. not coincidentially, bombshell is the album that gave king creosote more attention than ever before, its poppier sound appealing to a wider range of listeners, evidenced by last year's sold-out homecoming show at edinburgh's queen's hall. they flock etc. doesn't follow in bombshell's footsteps, and, judging by its unorthodox distribution, isn't likely to be a 679 release either. you see, king creosote's new album is only available at king creosote shows, a business model that makes so much sense, it's fairly astonishing that no one else does it. fence will be releasing it proper come september, but it's rather wonderful that they flock is only available to real k.c. fans (or, actually, was only available before the internet got its pesky thieving mitts on it, which all of us foreign faithful are grateful for). perceivable as either a two-fingered salute to bombshell's detractors (though that isn't kenny's style) or just an example of how mutable and evolving king creosote can be (more likely), they flock, in addition to being a solid record, is a bright reminder of how welcome unexpected experimentation is from predictable sources.

but enough talk about what it signifies, let's talk about how they flock sounds. king creosote meets the human league? okay, that's a bit overstated, but certainly puts you in the right frame of mind. this isn't a basement recording, not a 4 tracked CD-R, and not your typical k.c. fare. on some songs, there isn't even a guitar, much less an accordion! kenny's manifesto has long been that k.c. writes "songs with relatively few chords in a non-bluegrass style," and while nothing on they flock could be construed as bluegrass, but i'm not sure the maxim still applies. opening number "on esther's planet" has relatively few chords, and is the most accessible song on the record (i'm pretty sure the two are related), but the shimmery synths are a new development, and a little bizarre the first couple listens. i almost gave up after that, since "no one had it better" is the ultimate definition of throwing a spanner in the works, but "on esther's planet" kept drawing me back because of the inexorable pull of anderson's sweet scottish voice, and due to the relish with which he sings "let's go west, and let's get damaged," which is a mighty fine verse (its couplet is the equally awesome "let's drink water, and let's get healthy"). after "on esther's planet," however, anderson's voice get second billing for the next couple songs, along with his guitar and typical song structure, which are more or less abandoned. "ear against the wireless" finds kenny singing from a radio light-years away, backed by a menagerie of electronic sounds, a description that more or less suits roughly half of they flock's songs. which is definitely not to say they sound alike, since, as you will recall, the starting point of this post was how defiantly different of an album this is for the otherwise predictable scotsman.

the bevy of mostly electronic songs aside, they flock is (hopefully?) a turning point for king creosote's more traditional songs as well. as aforementioned, the accordion doesn't get a lot of credit throughout, but kenny employs the trusty squeezebox on standout "a mighty din of 'what if?'," even if only for a moment's turn in the spotlight. "44BC" is the closest we get to old-style kenny, but with a female backup and the faint sounds of synth, though the lyrics are predictably gloomy: he refers to himself variously as "a worthless cause," "a helpless case," and "a songless bird." the title "dead mouse's diary" should hint that some weirdness is afoot, and the union between casion beats, 2001: a space odessey-reminiscent synth effects and acoustic guitar is certifiably awkward, yet simultaneously enrapturing. on the other hand, the straight-up scatting that introduces "home creatures" feels genuine, an accomplishment in light of the fact that the album's impossible title comes from its lyrics. and even when you think a song is more or less in the standard k.c. vein (like "all mine, except for the falsetto[!?!]), it goes and breaks his self-imposed rule about samples: "no sample should be longer than four seconds, and although samples should be in tune or in time, not necessarily both," and you know whatever the hell is going on here, nothing is predictable.

it would be interesting to learn whether (or to what extent) ole' king c-sote was inspired by our current obsession with all things smooth and synthy. "the minter scale," to name but one example, could be a space-house track - hell, it is a space-house track, just one with a couple seconds of didgeridoo up front. also, kenny's placid, regretful voice, singing about stinging embarassment doesn't quite jel with our normal understanding of lite trance, but, hey, what are you gonna do about that? keep an open mind, like kenny. and just accept the fact that a different king creosote is still king creosote, and still writes awesome songs. despite the new direction k.c. takes on they flock, it is a cohesive and exciting ride, thus satisfying the most important law of king creosote: a kc album starts at the beginning, and don't finish 'til the end - by design."

"ear against the wireless" & "the minter scale"
they flock like vulcans to see old jupiter eyes on his home craters will be available from fence records in september.


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