Haunting, Uneasy Psychedelia from Matt Kanelos
Matt Kanelos is one of New York’s most sought-after pianists. He’s half of Carol Lipnik‘s haunting Ghosts in the Ocean project, plays with psychedelic Americana chanteuse Jenifer Jackson and Canadian gothic bandleader Lorraine Leckie as well as in sardonic jazz guitarist Jon Lundbom‘s band. Kanelos’ original songs are as smart and distinctive as the artists he shares the stage with. His new album Love Hello – streaming at Bandcamp – is a masterpiece of pensive, allusively lyrical psychedelia. To paraphrase one of his bandmates (guess which one!), it’s part hypnotic Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, part metrically tricky, artsy Radiohead and part Terry Riley in ultra-minimalist mode.
Kanelos alternates between keyboards and guitars on this album, with a core band of Kyle Sanna on guitar, Ben Gallina on bass and Conor Meehan on drums. The album’s starkly opening track Where the Seed Grows sets the stage, Kanelos’ spare, lustrous piano lingering over a simple, distantly uneasy acoustic guitar pulse. It’s arguably the album’s most haunting cut:
I know the mountain and the shore
I don’t go there anymore
They’re fighting a ground war
I heard the message in the drum
I know the places they come from
I hit the wind chime with my thumb
I thought that it would give me some
I’ll wait for the wind to come
The second track, Wonderland is a variation on the same melodic theme, a psychedelic nocturne with similarly marvelous, sparse piano, hints of Americana and a slow descent into grey-sky atmospherics. Video Town, another variation, evokes Radiohead’s Pyramid Song with its rhythmically tricky vamps, wary ambience and long, insistent crescendo as it winds up and then out.
And the Line could be the Church at their most low-key covering Neil Young, a dusky, airy Indian summer theme lit up by Sanna’s casually intense tremolo-picking. By contrast, Island Animals has an eerie, surreal, noisy Daydream Nation anxiousness, a reflection on aging and imminent doom that morphs into a slowly swaying paisley underground vamp and then back up. “The country wears a green disguise and you’re spinning on the earth alone, no filter to protect your eyes, animals a headstone,” Kanelos intones.
The Brink mingles layers and loops of keys into a terse, nebulous lament that segues into a brief, slowly marching solo piano take of the Charles Mingus composition Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love. Earth Man is a broodingly sarcastic apocalyptic reflection set to a slow, stately, uneasily swaying rhythm, Gallina artfully raising the intensity with judiciously placed chords behind Kanelos’ chiming electric piano, blippy layers of keys and a chorus of wordless vocals. Kanelos ends the album with its most skeletal track, North, a guardedly optimistic mood piece. The cd comes in a cool full-color package with surreal, thought-provoking photos by Kanelos and Marie Lewis, an apt visual counterpart to the music. In its quietly provocative way, it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom here so far this year.