Graeme K.
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Graeme K.

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"Graeme K.'s Electro-Pop Monsters"

Not to get all Guttman about it, but I've gotta heap some praise on one of The Bollard's own features: The Online Underground, the new monthly music column by David Pence. Pence has been discovering some real gems on the Web posted by local musicians and bands few people have heard or even heard of. One of them is Graeme K., whom I first heard when Pence wrote about his song "And Rattle!!!" in the August edition of OU. [Click here for that column.]

I too was impressed by the ingenuity of Mr. K.'s mechanistic music, its off-kilter mixture of madness and melody. When his new album arrived, I was eager to find out what other lovely monsters he'd been building in the lab. I was not disappointed to meet them.

Hidden Beast is a short series of highly sophisticated, mostly melancholy pop songs. As my wife, an instant fan, remarked, K. has an obvious "affection for sound," a love of tones and timbres both old and modern. And as demonstrated on "Rattle," he has a knack for slicing and looping and layering these sounds to create crazy, catchy compositions. There's a lot happening on this track, more than can be absorbed in one listen. For example, I heard it almost a dozen times before my ear picked up on the guitar Pence mentioned.

The other six numbers on Beast are equally ingenious, embellished with all sorts of aural delights. "Aw. Turkish. Baby." (K.'s got a thing for punctuation) is a grand and gorgeous song driven by a pounding barrelhouse piano figure and accented with blasts of horn, a looped exclamation ("aw yeah!") and a bizarre snippet of dialogue at the end.

"Finally" bounces along on an ethereal xylophone run, a funky drum shuffle, and some tasty bass contributed by Barry Burst of Citadelle. Beneath all this one can hear a shaker and a click track not unlike the sound of a shotgun being repeatedly cocked and fired. When K. cuts in a sampled voice saying, "touch the moon spirit of lyrics," one can't help but marvel and wonder: Who is this guy?

The musical wizard of the West End: Graeme K. (photo/courtesy K.)

Graeme K. (b. Graeme Kennedy) is a Mainer who recently returned from six years in New York City, where he recorded three albums and "over 100 hours of music," according to his bio. Further investigation (i.e., a chat with Bollard art director Sean Wilkinson) reveals that K. worked a stint as a receptionist at a local marketing and graphic design company, is "a really cool guy," and plays drums in a side project put together by Josh Loring of Cult Maze.

Following "Finally," Beast offers "Badfoot Circus," a two-minute hallucination that sounds like Eggbot on a balloon of nitrous oxide. This is followed by "Praying" and "Hide and Seek," two electro-pop concoctions awash in longing and regret.

The former begins with an extended intro borrowed from Gilberto and Getz's "Girl from Ipanema." The latter is a slow, piano-based piece about a love lost to the progress of time and adulthood. "Do you remember when we used to play hide and seek with the lights off? / When we ran home in the rain?," K. sings. "When we flew around the world and you held my hand as we took off? / Now everything has changed."

Beast ends with a swirling and disorienting sound collage titled "Scared to Life," which contains a sampled rant against war and the associated subversion of Constitutional rights. It's a tragic sign of the times that K. felt compelled to include a piece like this on an album otherwise wholly concerned with matters of the heart. Tragic, that is, but entirely justified.

Aside from Burst's bass on two songs and the aforementioned samples, K. performed/created all the music on Hidden Beast. The instrumentation and arrangements are astounding. My only complaint is that K. tends to bury his vocals in the mix – the sign of a singer still not comfortable with his voice. A guy this talented need not be so shy.

So thanks, Graeme, for this wonderful album. And thanks again, David, for hipping us all to it. Who knows what other musical monsters are hiding among us here in the Forest City...

– Chris Busby - thebollard.com


"Track Review: Graeme K. "And Rattle!!!""

A few bars of found Dixieland, supplanted by 60 strums of foggy guitar, stopped by a disturbing buzz. Figuratively, this hum is the sound of the mad collagist (Mr. K.) throwing the switch and starting a massive machine that integrates sounds in an awesome haze of dirt and noise and rolling rhythm. There are vocals (and a tune), and you can hear guitars and drums and other instruments, but Graeme K. puts his faith in textures and mechanical repetition. Nearly a drone, the track runs on two chords and is propelled by a single three-note riff that sounds over and over. Interruption of the single-minded momentum and worry about the distinctness of individual elements are not allowed. "And Rattle!!!" is a stirring mixture of beauty and brutality.

David Pence is the host of Radio Junk Drawer, heard Wednesdays from 3 p.m.-5 p.m. on community radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM; www.wmpg.org). - David Pence, radio host, WMPG 90.9 FM


"5 stars"

Somehow it all comes to the Bluesbunny. There are all sorts of music out there just looking for an audience and finding it at Bluesbunny Towers. Judging from what we have learned of Graeme K, he has been out in the musical wilderness for a good while and has become something of a prodigal son with the release of his album "Hidden Beast".

It is difficult to categorise Graeme K's music. There are simple, classical style piano melodies mixed up with hip hop beats, sound samples and distant impassioned vocals to paint strange sonic pictures of a landscape full of marching bands, cartoon characters, fairytale princesses and talking heads. You want to know how a reviewer knows if a song works? Just close your eyes when it is playing and, if you are still in the same room, then it does not work. If you get taken away to another place then you have real music. Music that convinces you. Music that will put you under a spell. A spell that relieves the mediocrity of existence. It's not even about the lyrics or the melody - it's about the effect on you.

There's an odd little introduction to "And Rattle!" then what sounds like some pre war jazz samples throw themselves at you. Layer in the vocals and a drum loop or two and you have set the scene. The parts seem at odds with each other but somehow it all comes together. "Aw Turkish Baby" shows those hip hop influences with a frenetic keyboard sample looping round the laconic vocals. Then comes "Finally" that starts off like the theme to some innocent seventies kid's television series that the BBC would have produced. Like we said earlier, the lyrics don't really seem to matter as they just get weaved into the song to stop it all going cold and unemotional.

"Praying" is more conventional with even a chorus, no less. It is certainly no less satisfying for having an obvious entry point even if there is that underlying feeling of regret to deal with. By this point, curiosity will have got you and you have to listen to the rest of the album. Going all sensitive singer songwriter style with "Hide and Seek", only some unsubtle beats to spoil the moment. The musical theme that has run through this album resurfaces in the last track "Scared to Life" with the loops coming together to form a marching band and lead us all off into the sunset. Maybe this album is an apology for past misdeeds. Music is a personal thing and what means everything to one man will mean nothing to another. Sometimes, though, you get the feeling that you are feeling what the performer feels. Strange but true.

Don't know if you are familiar with the soundtracks to the films that fall into the category of the Czechoslovakian New Wave such as the exquisite work that Luboš Fišer did for "Valerie and her Week of Wonders"? Perhaps not. Anyway, Graeme K has produced an album that seems to come from that same reference point mixing as it does all sorts of musical influences into a coherent, if sometimes discordant, whole. These songs stick with you, sounding familiar yet at the same time strange and disconnected. Quite a challenging listening experience, then, as your ears unpick the layers of sound to uncover something. And that something - unless Bluesbunny is very much mistaken - is Graeme K's heart and soul. - Bluesbunny.com


Discography

Version Integrale, 1997
Too Far To Run, 2002
Hidden Beast, 2008

Photos

Bio

The sounds you are hearing were recorded at night, on a remote lake in Maine.

Graeme's musical career began at age 10, when he joined his elementary school's band as the only drummer. By 12, he was performing with jazz ensembles and in youth symphonies throughout New England.

At 18, Graeme moved to New York City and spent the next 6 years perfecting his "off-kilter mixture of madness and melody."

Having left his drums, guitars, and other instruments in Maine, Graeme began creating his own sounds through the use of orchestral sampling. Utilizing thousands of recordings, including mixtapes he made as a child, Graeme built a unique library of sounds, note by note. A thoroughly modern approach, these samples are what give Graeme’s recordings their timeless, dusty yet digital quality.

In the spring of 2005, he was picked as one of the ten best unsigned artists in New York City, according to CMJ magazine (www.cmj.com/bob), and asked to play in the "Best of the Five Boroughs" annual concert at Prospect Park.

In the fall of 2006, he recorded an album with engineer Bill Moriarty (Man Man, Dr. Dog) at American Diamond Studio in Philadelphia.

Following the sessions at American Diamond, Graeme went back to his home state of Maine to finish the record. The album was completed in the fall of 2007, titled Hidden Beast, and released by Olympia's Mckeenstreet Music on March 11th, 2008.