March 01, 2004

King Creosote "Kenny & Beth's Musackal Boat Rides"

I have to admit that I've been quite flustered by the 'proper' debut album by King Creosote, Kenny & Beth's Musakal Boat Rides. King Creosote--proper name Kenny Anderson--is the leader of a Scottish lo-fi psych collective based around his label, Fence Recordings, the British psych-folk-rock answer to the Elephant Six question, of which King Creosote is the predominant act. Also a part of this collective is lovely folkie James Yorkston and Anderson's brother Gordon, who formed the Beta Band and is now better known as The Lone Pigeon. There are also quite a few other performers, with similarly interesting monikers, band names and album titles.

For the most part, Fence Records is a CD-R label, and the label boasts a ton of releases, though if you go to their shop, you'll see there are less than five that are actually available for sale. Kenny & Beth's Musakal Boat Rides is a collection of songs from the dozens--and I literally mean dozens (I'm counting twenty-nine, as I'm counting the albums in the box set individually)--of King Creosote releases. Considering the fact that you're never gonna hear most--if any--of these releases, then the fact that this is a de facto 'greatest hits' record really shouldn't be much of an issue. According to the Fence website, of the album's thirteen tracks, 'about two or three' of the songs are actually new, and as you and I haven't been honored enough to hear his other records, this is as close to his brilliance as we're gonna get right now.

Considering the diverse nature of these songs, you'd expect this album to be really scattered and stylistically schitzophrenic--but it's not! In fact, it's really great; the King's got a very lovely, very soft singing voice; it's delicate but not precious. If you're lazy, you might compare him to Nick Drake, simply because he's acoustic-based. But invoking Drake's name isn't fair, because King Creosote is--and I know I'm speaking sacrilege here--more interesting than Drake. Though his music is odd, it's surprisingly uplifting; even more amazing is how much he does with just a guitar and a mixing board. Sure, he has occasional percussion (it sounds synthetic) but he also uses synthesizer, samples of children singing and the occasional accordian--but it's mostly him and his guitar.

It's hard not to get enthralled with each subsequent listen--every time I've put this record on, it reveals something new and subtle--and if I didn't know better, I would think that somehow the King has manipulated time, space and all laws of physics, because it feels like he's somehow changed the album with every subsequent listen. "Homeboy" is the best song that the Lilac Time never wrote, and it aches for an audience singalong. The lovely musical backing on "Meantime?" At first I thought it was a tape loop of scratchy vinyl, but after a second listen, I realized it wasn't---it was a sample of radio static. "Harper's Dough" is one of the most uplifting songs I've ever heard, even though it has only one lyric: "You've got to rise above the gutter you have inside." With just a dulcimer, he sings this lyric over and over, adding additional voices with every sing, creating an overwhelmingly powerful feeling of positivity and hope.

All in all, Kenny & Beth's Musakal Boat Rides is one of the oddest and most interesting musical (musakal?) boat rides you'll take all year. It's most certainly weird--but a good weird, and it shows what an enterprising and bored young man can do with just a few instruments, a lot of musical ideas and a home recorder. The only flaw of this perfect album is that it's not enough--after two listens, I instantly wanted more. And, from the looks of his website, 'more' will always be forthcoming. If he allows the rest of the world to hear it, we'll be indeed blessed. It's a good thing I don't smoke weed, or else I'd probably most assuredly listen to nothing but Kenny & Beth's Musakal Boat Rides for a long, long time.

--Joseph Kyle

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