Pete Kilpatrick Band: Heavy Fire

Fire away

Pete Kilpatrick keeps the home fires burning

If anyone has grown up right in front of his fans, it’s Pete Kilpatrick. On the cusp of releasing his fifth full-length album (with an EP mixed in) and finishing out his first decade of performing professionally, Kilpatrick has gone from an impossibly winsome and charming, squeaky-clean young lad to, yes, a father, with a voice and sentiment both deepening along the way.

In the nearly four years since Hope in Our Hearts [this originally ran in March, 2012], Kilpatrick’s sound has grown immeasurably, gaining an important maturity and substance that has significantly augmented his already apt talent for pop-rock songwriting. With the brand-new Heavy Fire, not only does the band sound more weighty, layering in a bedrock of foundation that Kilpatrick’s vocals rest effortlessly on top of, but there is an undercurrent of introspection and the kind of examination of what’s important that comes with an infant squalling in the next room over.

There is a steadfastness here, a comfort level, that allows for songs to take on pop airs, even to adopt some ’80s percussive techniques and dance on the edge of some light rock guitar tone from engineer/guitarist Pete Morse, without seeming inconsequential. This is helped immensely by Ed Dickhaut’s presence as resident drummer – he’s a force. An in-demand session drummer for years (he was on David Mallett’s Artist in Me, way back in 2003, I just noticed), here’s hoping he’s found a home for the foreseeable future, as his rhythms add a Paul Simon vibe to the record that are good enough to capture your attention all by themselves.

Dickhaut is complemented well, too, by vet bassist Matt Cosby, who’s subtle and easygoing and acts as the band’s center when so much can be swirling through each song. Morse and keyboardist Tyler Stanley (of Sly Chi and more) generally eschew traditional lead parts in exchange for phrases that interlock and intertwine and often make for a tightly controlled chaos of notes.

They echo the chaos of life’s unrelenting momentum forward, with which Kilpatrick seems determined to come to grips. The album is full of battle imagery, warring ideas and factions, but also at least four of his songs reference “home,” that place “where your heart is,” as we hear on the title track, or “where you left it,” or “what you make of it.” He is constantly exploring what the past has built, what the future holds, standing on the cusp of decisions that hold tremendous import.

In the excellent “Two Armies,” arranged in an orchestral manner, with Dickhaut rolling floor toms through the mix, we get a narrative of a “boy who lost his way.” What Kilpatrick has found over the course of the past few years, though, is some considerable range. I love how he reaches for the bottom in the chorus: “She said the past will set you free/ It’s just a glorified looking glass to me.” He’s added a bit of accent to his delivery, too, and improved his falsetto, now leaning toward Brit singers like Chris Martin or Keane’s Tom Chaplin.

“Hold Your Breath” opens like an Of Montreal or Yeasayer tune, with a cacophonous indie melody and a chorus of vocals, before settling down into what might actually be the most pop tune on the record, with the requisite sentiment: “All we’ll have is all we’ll ever need.” And “Martha” is the true ode, with a distorted keyboard tone contrasted with an ice-pick clean electric guitar: “Martha please don’t leave me/ I can’t afford to be alone/ This far from home.”

Funnily enough, the guitar solo of sorts in the bridge here reminds of Steely Dan’s “Reeling in the Years,” and it’s as though Kilpatrick is offering this record up as a demarcation. After this, he shall disavow all those childish things. He’s setting up shop. He’s through looking backward and has his sights set straight ahead with all of his burdens right up there on his back, a load he’s eager to carry.

He’s living, just like the track he opens the record with, the “American Dream.” He’s wise enough to intuit the answer when he asks, “Does anybody hear the words I say as I fall down?” No. You’re on your own kid. You’ve got it right when you notice later that “we’re all falling down.” And it sure is nice when we find someone who can pick us back up.

Max García Conover: Burrow

Gone to ground

Surviving winter with Max García Conover

Part of what made Bon Iver’s debut For Emma, Forever Ago so instantly important was the almost tangible feeling of solitude it conveyed. Even if Justin Vernon’s words were muffled and muted at times, it didn’t matter. You feel like you were right there in that cabin in the woods with him.

Max García Conover’s debut full-length, Burrow, doesn’t rise to the emotional heights of that album, but it shares a starkness, like listening to music through an Instagram filter, that conveys that same feeling of going to ground. Recorded in an attic studio over the winter by Pete Morse, the album is full of brief songs (just one of the 11 goes past three minutes) that can pass you by like a wisp of emotion triggered by a memory that’s just out of reach.

Morse is more than just engineer, though. While Conover takes center stage with a fast and note-filled fingerstyle guitar playing and a resonant lower-register vocal, Morse chimes in and fills out with hints of guitar lines, doubling down on the atmosphere. Combine all that with Conover’s penchant for jamming lyrics into tight spaces and going outside your standard subject matter (this may be the only album you listen to this year to feature a woodthrush) and the album can at times feel like watching old super 8 movies on a projector that’s moving slightly too fast.

“New Beast” is a stand out, with Sophie Nelson lending accompanying vocals for the entire track and more of a melodic hook than most songs here. Conover is accusatory: “You can talk of nothing … I don’t know what you’re for.” His playing is particularly engaging on “The Glow #4,” where he sits on top of a Morse guitar like an organ line that is a warmth to indicate nostalgia: “There she goes / Grabbing from her tiptoes / And staggering, staggering.”

The best track, though is the longest and almost hidden at the end of the album. “The Wedding Line” maybe stands out mostly for Conover’s solitary use of a more traditional strum, and vocals like he’s whispering in your ear so that you can almost feel his breath on your neck. Like the best Wesley Allen Hartley songs, I found myself straining to make out every word and was often pleased when they came into focus: “Everybody calls her a poet / But they say it when they’re rolling their eyes.”

There’s a lot to unpack here and spring seems like a good time to air it out.

Photo Credit: Greta Rybus