Review Roundup: Kevin Morby/Aweful Kanawful/Stephen Emmer/Kitchen People

Album Review / featured / News / Vinyl Review / July 14, 2017

Kevin Morby — City Music
Dead Oceans / Vinyl Me, Please

Kevin Morby’s latest makes me feel pretty sleepy, but in a good way. Maybe it’s the indie-fied, chilled-out cover of the Germs’ “Caught in My Eye,” or just the way the album lopes along, but the entirety of City Music reminds me of Kurt Vile’s stuff. It’s very much akin to Smoke Ring For My Halo, again, in a really good way. I forgot how much I liked this style of slightly-buzzed, kinda-jangly pop. There’s a nice little kick in the pants with the “People Who Died”-esque ode to the Ramones that is “1234,” but Morby’s new LP is pretty great for just slouching around and smoking cigarettes on the porch.

The Vinyl Me, Please pressing is a deliciously gorgeous slab of orange and white; it looks like a creamsicle. Looking at Twitter, I’m not the only person to have considered taking a bite out of it, to say nothing of maybe giving it a tentative lick. Plus, there’s this repeating geometric pattern on the inside of the cover to the included booklet, and they use it again on the inside of the album jacket. The album jacket isn’t a gatefold, which means that Dead Oceans went to the extra trouble and expense to have a pattern put on something which you will only see as you take the record in and out of the jacket. They’re pretty damn confident you’re going to be spinning Morby’s LP a lot.

The included booklet has song lyrics, an essay on the record by Kyle Thomas, and a little blurb from Morby on each of the songs. I appreciate the fact that there’s like, eight lines to “1234,” and the explanation is almost as lengthy at the lyrics themselves.

This being a Vinyl Me, Please release, there’s an art print. This one’s by Robbie Simon, and it’s minimalist, and while it’s pretty neat, it looks like it might be better suited to a Ken Nordine word jazz record. The drink recipe is, amazingly, also pretty minimalist. It’s bourbon, lime juice, simple syrup, and ginger beer, which means that it’s almost a horsefeather, but sweeter. Much like the album City Music, it’s deceptively easy at first, but gets you on the back end.

Aweful Kanawful — Clam’s Cassino
Chocolate Chin Records

Take a one-man bedroom recording genius, pair him with a five-piece R&B garage combo, and let them loose in the studio, and you’ve got Aweful Kanawful. Clam’s Cassino just sort of showed up one day, and it keeps finding its way back to the turntable, because it’s just so fascinating. Upon first listen — especially opening track, “MotorWonder” — it sounds like nothing so much as applying the aesthetic of avante-punks Geza X & The Mommymen to acoustic instruments.

Rather than flanged-out guitar pedals and synths, there are flutes and horns and drums, and it’s rambunctiously joyous. The real enjoyment of this is that Aweful Kanawful’s whole sound is so very much of the early ’80s Los Angeles New Wave scene — it’s kind of cool, really. Clam’s Cassino sounds like somebody once heard a bunch of Dils records and tried to recreate them with their friends.

I really like this album and appreciate the sense of weirdness and mystery it offers up. You wonder how the hell something like the mad chamber pop of “Man of Steal” came together, but the liner notes leave as much to the imagination as they explain. Honestly, I like to think that this was all recorded with the band sitting in a sandbox like Brian Wilson doing Pet Sounds. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me.

Stephen Emmer — Home Ground
Electric Fairytale Recordings

This is certainly not my usual cup of tea. I certainly enjoy quite a few global genres, but the ominous aegis of “world music” is usually enough to send me screaming in the opposite direction of whatever’s being played. So the opening cut to Home Ground, “A New Day,” had me fearing that this was going to be another one of those globally-conscious records which has little but good intent going for it.

I was, in fact, quite wrong. Stephen Emmer’s Home Ground is maybe a little more easy-listening than I would like, but the talent is undeniable, and the idea of producing an album which calls back to the history of soul music, and traces its various facets, ends up working wonderfully.

The Dutch musician has produced an undeniably chill album which succeeds because of the wide array of talent and styles on display. The funkier tracks work best: “Soul Glow,” featuring George Clinton singer Kendra Foster is an almost etherial look back, and the Chaka Khan track “Under Your Spell” calls back to the singer’s work in the ’70s alongside Rufus.

As a matter of fact, aside from the two Dwight Trible tracks — which have a certain jazzy tempo to them — the majority of Home Ground sees Emmer and his vocalists somewhere around the mid-’70s. For those fans of vintage acts such as the Stylistics and Bloodstone, or those who’ve been wooed by the more modern take of Adrian Younge, this is the sort of album which bears tracking down for an evening with some grown folks.

The sales of Home Ground benefit War Child, a charity which “works for a better future for hundreds of thousands of children affected by war.” 25 percent of digital sales and 50 percent of physical sales profit will be donated to War Child. I suggest the vinyl LP, which comes on heavy black, and includes a printed inner sleeve with lyrics.

Kitchen People — Trendoid
Oops Baby Records

It’d been a while since I’d heard anything from Brooklyn’s Oops Baby Records, then this record showed up from the label, and I was pleased to see that they’re still dropping garage knowledge on the populace. Their latest release is by Kitchen People, a band hailing all the way from Perth, Australia, and damned if Trendoid isn’t weirdly catchy. It’s also dissonant and something you could listen to while wrecking a house party.

Props to the band for managing to make a synth-punk record that actually puts the synth up there as a main instrument. Far too many records in the genre treat it like the bass or the drums, and drop it in the mix, but on this record, it’s as prominent as the guitars or vocals, making it prominently bend and ooze. I feel like the folks at Oops Baby have a unique skill for finding bands which ride that cusp between fun and dangerous, and Kitchen People know how to straddle the line perfectly.

Think of Trendoid as being a switchblade comb to which someone’s glued razor blades. It is, definitely, the kind of record you either like or you don’t. Kitchen People are fast, snotty, and Trendoid will either start a party or end it, depending on where your friends exist on the enjoyment scale. Frankly, I find it fun as hell, and it’s definitely catchier than say, the Spits.

Minimal liner notes, although the band photo fits the sonic aesthetic perfectly. It’s a still shot of a TV screen, and nothing so perfectly sums up this band as interlaced cathode ray tube imagery with a bunch of white noise behind it. There’s also a download code.

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Nick Spacek
Nick Spacek was once a punk, but realized you can’t be hardcore and use the word “adorable” as often as he does. Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with four cats and usually goes to bed by 9. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online.

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