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KGFREEZE returns with plenty of hand raisers

Because Kyle Gervais is constitutionally unable to be in a band, we are left with his solo project, KGFREEZE. While that may be frustrating for fans (and members) of great bands like Cosades and Grand Hotel, it isn’t bad consolation for those interested in hearing truly interesting and exploratory music.

And because Gervais has decided the classic “band” music-making structure is not for him, it’s even easier for him to pivot with his songwriting whims. On his first KGFREEZE album, Sociopath, that meant he played all the instruments himself and created a grimy, inward-looking piece, as the name would imply. Similarly, on the brand-new VOLUNTEER (I’m just going with capitalization thing – AP Style be damned) he has enlisted a Brady Bunch of collaborators, who share songwriting credits and contribute vocals, musicianship and production.

The results are among the best in an already-impressive resume of recorded works. The album is dynamic, engaging, and thought-provoking – even at times a whole lot of fun.

“Better Falsetto” is the highlight, which you know already if you’ve seen the video charging about social media. It is Gervais aping Justin Timberlake, a recalcitrant crooner who doesn’t have to worry about what the radio edit might sound like, with Jared Burst filling in for Jay-Z in the rapped bridge. Almost as a throwaway, it has a hook like Seal’s “Kissed by a Rose” (I had forgotten the Batman connection to that song) that will have you belting out the chorus in random places before you know you’re doing it.

Burst, too, does great work. He merges with the verse in a half-time slur, then slaps you out of your reverie: “Who gives a fuck about whatever his name is?” And Sean Morin (Daro, Cambiata, etc.) sets the mood with a works of synths and beats.

This rival is often a topic of conversation. In “Talk About Love,” Gervais wonders, “How would he feel if he knew what I was doing to you.” But then he changes the pronouns, turns the song on its head, makes the finish of the six-and-a-half-minute piece into an entreaty: “Let’s talk about love … whatever that means.” And the last minute-plus is a distorted fade-out, like being forcibly dragged, with teases at speeding back up that ultimately sputter out in Derek Gierhan’s drums.

In the strutting and spare “Top Secret,” we get the other side of the story, in the form of Sara Hallie Richardson’s dark evanescence, peppered with laughter and chatting: “I’ve met you many times before/ You give nothing and keep asking for more … Gotta make sure that you meet your needs before you meet mine/ I can’t begin to explain to you, how useless you are.”

And, yet, you get the sense they’re sleeping together. (The couple in the song. Not Gervais and Richardson.)

Gervais and company love contradictions – changes of tempo, of mood and setting. The opening and title track is nothing but moody synths, slightly industrial, with muted vocals that mimic the lyrics, “I don’t really care.” And then, after three minutes, it gets awesome, with guitar melody and chords in opposing channels and downright danceable.

Suddenly, that extended, all-instrumental jam crashes into “Power + Status,” declaring immediately that, “I still get fucked up on week nights / With people I don’t know / When you’re not around” in traditional guitar/bass/drums structure. This is the Gervais you know best, full-throated and doubled delivery: “I talk a lotta shit people about / People I shouldn’t talk shit about.”

And he’s right. No one cares about that. Especially if he can combine with the likes of Miek Rodrigue to elicit pointed guitar solos and Jacob Battick’s alter-ego AFRAID to create the Moby-like “Good Times Roll,” a repeating and cycling mash-up of early rock and contemporary digitization. The piano is like a skipping CD in the open, pounding and insistent, but AFRAID is warm and inviting, careful in his delivery, not unlike Damon Albarn in “Tender,” which similarly rolled the same words around to see how they sounded.

Then we get a deep bass, a flute-like lilt, and some snare. Like the 7:18-long “Song 9,” it’s the kind of work you can listen to on repeat for hours if need be, though “Song 9” is more like something off the Sixteen Candles Soundtrack, with Pretenders licks and a Men Without Hats” keyboard line. Plus lines like, “I just want to hold you / Sometimes / I think I’d like to get to know you.”

Is that you, Ducky?

The whole thing is just ducky by me, I’ll say that. KGFREEZE doesn’t make easy pop fare, but you can see the wheels turning behind every track and you can listen to them for days on end.

KGFREEZE: Sociopath

Cozy up to KGFREEZE

Songs for people who don’t like people

As the driving force behind two of the better projects to ever release music in Portland – Cosades and Grand Hotel (and Glory Trap was pretty fun) – when Kyle Gervais says he’s got a solo project in the works, people pay attention. A musician’s musician, with a deep knowledge of and love for a wide spectrum of work, Gervais has a way of pushing boundaries and challenging the listener with songs that are familiar at their core.

On this first KGFREEZE album, Sociopath, you can almost be lulled into thinking he’s making pop songs. The opening and title track is way more playful than anything Gervais had done in the recent lead-up, with a bouncy and melodic bass line and colorful keyboards. But what’s he been up to?

“I spent the last year drinking every night and lying to myself / And everybody else.”

There you have it. Playing everything on the album but the drums (he brought in Derek Gierhan for that), Gervais has created songs that play out like he’s lying on the couch and you’re the psychologist. Or his girlfriend. “I never feel comfortable around anyone I don’t really know,” he confides in the ’80s-fueled “Razzle Dazzle,” “she liked the way I was when it was just the two of us.” Like many of the songs here, instead of stark contrasts between verses and choruses we get a simmering that threatens to boil, but never quite gets to that point, as the heat is toggled up and down almost schizophrenically.

“Why you only call me when you wanna hook up,” he eventually accuses. “I’m getting tired, baby, of calling your bluff.”

Often, as in “Dancing” or “Come Around,” a repeating bass line is presented as a foundation on which he builds chiming keyboard chords or spare electric guitar leads. His vocals can sound desperate, pleading, but then switch quickly to haughtiness.

“Close Encounters” is positively brooding, with narcotized vocals in the open encouraging, “you should get a little high with me / He’ll still be there when you get back home,” before he apes Sunset Hearts and settles into a strutting bounce: “I’m sorry I screamed / But you know I still love you.”

“In too Deep” is full of twinkling keyboards, like seeing stars; “I Want You” is like an early Michael Jackson song from an alternative universe. “Come Around” finishes with this quickly delivered “really wanna give you my love” that sounds like it could have come off a Timberlake album.

Sociopath is the kind of record I couldn’t quite come to grips with in the span of a mere 10 days of listening or so. Sometimes all I can hear is the chiming chords that infuse “Can’t Get My Mind Off of You” like a clock striking 100 o’clock. At one point in “Closer” I thought Gervais was going to enter with a rap verse like early Run DMC. And yet most of these songs are pretty damn accessible.