Monday, July 19, 2004

Where have I been lately?  Ah, yes, 'round and 'round.  "Hectic summer daze"?  Many packages and promo things, age old back-orders etc have hit my box in the last week or two, so I will make a jumbled post about some of that crap very soon.  For now, here's a review of two new recent Kitchen Cynics albums that will be published in next issue of the Ptolemaic Terrascope, posted here mainly because this is a great lil one man folk-pop dream factory that more people who like that sortathing might want to investigate:
 
Kitchen Cynics Parallel Dog Days (Secret Eye)
Kitchen Cynics Compulsive Songwriting Disorder (Audiobot Limited) 
 
You could never accuse Aberdeen, Scotland’s Alan Davidson of sleeping at the wheel.  Yawning, perhaps—cocking his head sideways, maybe—but the lad is ever vigilant in negotiating the detritus of failed love affairs and faded memories with the enchanted aural confections he performs as the Kitchen Cynics.  I first heard the ‘Cynics do a version of Tom Rapp’s “Stardancer” on the first For the Dead in Space tribute album years ago now, and was instantly, effortlessly transported to another world.  Davidson’s reserved, literate Scottish accent perfectly captures the ethereality of Rapp’s haunting original, with subtle use of fuzz and effects beneath delicate fingerpicking, serving as the perfect aural springboard to your favorite secret garden.  Needless to say, it made an indelible impression.  Ever since I’d approached the music of the ‘Cynics with a curious awe, something whispered about and asked for in dusty record shops to no avail, before I finally tracked Davidson down via email and arranged a fruitful transaction.      

Sporting one of the more memorable titles in the recent history, Parallel Dog Days is one of two new Kitchen Cynics’ releases making the rounds, this time courtesy of the same people responsible for the Tom Rapp tribute albums, For the Dead in Space Vol.’s 1-3, Secret Eye (formerly Magic Eye)—all highly recommended for the discriminating psych folk fan.  Parallel is the first ‘Cynics album to be released on American shores to date, but let’s hope not the last (the excellent singles comp Seasonings is screaming for a larger pressing as I type).  In Davidson’s own words, the album title refers to his earlier, wilder days:  “I used to frequent a local pub where a guy would always bring in his dog, and, instead of standing at right-angles to the bar, it stood parallel, often causing the regulars to fall over it when they stepped backwards. I admired its refusal to change its ways!”  There isn’t a better metaphor for the poignant determination that marks this recorded legacy.  For the uninitiated, this is the perfect way into Davidson’s sleepy folk dream world.  Melodic acoustic guitars sketch vivid images with delicate brush strokes, creating a bevel for nostalgic recollections of youthful indiscretions and drunken date-swappings.  Each of these twenty songs offers an assured, slightly post punk/lo-fi version of folk pop with bits of cheap synthesizer, muffled percussion and cortex-tickling distortion fleshing out the typically austere approach.  But ultimately it’s that hushed delivery and a credible, often hilarious, insider’s perspective on the ins and outs of these characters that makes this such a worthy treat.  The hypnotic longing and slighted jealousy of “The Place You Hid,” the medieval recollections of “At Villa E.107 (Eileen Gray Reflects),” the Nick Drake by way of Donovan memories of “North of Balmedie, West of the Waves” and the serene folk bliss of “Tune for Tom Rapp”—a simple gesture of goodwill to one cult legend from another—are waiting to be heard late at night, a glass of cheap red wine in one hand, a dear friend nestled tightly in the other. 

The aptly titled Compulsive Songwriting Disorder offers more of the same in terms of quality songwriting, but as its title suggests, this is a bit darker collection.  Tracks like the spartan opener “The Tartan Shawl” and the spectral “Great-Uncle Jack’s Deathbed Dance” paint forlorn melodic swathes in a dark, overcast sky.  The tender interpretation of Bridget St. John’s “Ask Me No Questions” is a sweet kiss goodnight, before the more caustic “Murph’s Song” explores nooks and crannies of melancholic longing to hypnotic effect with its haunting refrain, “we’ve come together, but we’re all alone.”  Other track highlights: the sinister discontent of “Waiting for Your Mail,” the slow burning fuzz wash of “Lethargic Lover,” the extended dream of “Dialogue,” featuring a lovely harmony vocal from Cara Lewis, and “In Dunottar Woods,” with music that sounds like it’s emanating from a very old phonograph, only fitting for this sort of moody folk pop impressionism.  Contact: www.secreteye.org/se and www.freaksendfuture.com for more information.  

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