By today’s standards, this album stands sole alone, like an oasis in a desert!
To create the new album by Kicklighter, founder and principal member Everett Young said that he did not just “borrow” from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, he pretty much boarded a time machine and dwelled there. Says Everett, a 45-year-old PhD-holding political psychologist who took up guitar at 41 and plays all the guitar and keyboards on the album: “My concept was to create an album that literally could have been recorded in 1985, 1989, maybe 1991, and could have been one of the great records of its time, but was lost to time and only just now re-discovered in a vault somewhere.”
Everett Young has quite a cool story to tell about how, at 41, he committed himself to learn to play the guitar. And how, at 45, he is playing in two bands, making and records as a guitarist, but you can read all about it on his website. I’m more interested in the music Everett creates, and as he calls it, the ‘great-sounding’ records he makes.
One of these is no doubt the latest Kicklighter album, The Fascinating Thinking Machine, which Everett boldly catalogs as, Intellectual Pop. And before I even heard one single note of music from the album, I was already certain of one thing, Everett Young sounded like a man on a mission, with enough self-esteem and conviction, to get there and back again…twice…and on the same day!
If there is any kind of formula to Everett Young and Kicklighter’s music, it’s that it combines rich and detailed musicianship with being friendly and accessible to the listener. Several decades ago FM radio was where all the good music was played. AM radio was all pop, hype and commercials. However, occasionally powerful FM groups crossed from the relative obscurity of FM pop-rock to AM pop-rock, and when they were able to do so while retaining a strict measure of their artistic values. The end result was usually either a killer song or a killer album; The Fascinating Thinking Machine is just such an album.
How often do you read reviews raving about how great an album is? Very frequently. How often does the hype meet reality? Rarely. In the case of this album, the creativity and quality are incredibly high. But the most striking thing is that Kicklighter are not breaking any new ground here whatsoever. If you’ve lived as long as me, you’ve probably heard this all before; the strong melodies, the sweet harmonies, the layered instrumentation and carefully thought-out musical arrangements, and above all, the solid but tasteful sound production.
So what makes this album exceptional? Well, the fact that you’re hearing all of the above in 2014! Had this been the late seventies or early eighties, The Fascinating Thinking Machine would have been a great pop album, amongst some of the most legendary music ever made. By today’s standards, this album stands sole alone, like an oasis in a desert – avoiding gimmicks, self-indulgence, and arrogance – basing itself purely on musical merit. It contains some of the catchiest melodies recently produced, interlaced with a nostalgic sound that surrounds the timeless lyrical statements of every song.
While every track on this this album is a gem, there are a number of unique moments: “Says A Tender Mind”, “The Sultan of Brunei”, “After The Healing” and “When Howie Dressed Me Down” quickly comes to mind. As powerful as much of the music is on this album there are quite a few occasions where the dominant instruments are acoustic and the songs are quite mellow too.
There are moments in musical history when a group passes through a creative point in their careers, where their music matches the sentiment of a broad range of listeners. Often those moments are when multiple musical styles are intelligently combined to create an engagingly fresh pop sound.
Kicklighter now seem to be passing through that creative point, with the album, The Fascinating Thinking Machine, whether the sentiments of the current ‘broad range of auto-tuned listeners’, matches Kicklighter’s music, remains to be seen. In the meantime I’m going to put this in my player and imagine I’m back in ’79 – a time when MUSIC mattered and Everett Young’s elegant tunes would have illuminated many a soul.