Friday, July 10, 2009

Tommy Keene -- In The Late Bright

Tommy Keene -- In The Late Bright (Second Motion)

Tommy Keene’s melancholy shimmer jangles eternally. At this point in his career, artistic progress is, for the most part, best measured with a microscope. Here, the big change between this and other Keene albums is the presence of his first instrumental.

That instrumental, “Elevated”, may be the highlight of the album. It’s not just that it provides a fitting showcase for Keene’s fantastic guitar work, but it’s also that the spacey, reverb filled piece takes Keene’s sound in a wholly different direction. It’s pretty and atmospheric, with the same majesty found in so many of Keene’s power pop classics.

And those classics are best found on prior albums. This may be the first Keene album not to have a couple easy to identify, out-of-the-box stand outs. The consistent Keene sound is there, and everything is lovingly crafted, but the choruses just don’t stick that often.

It really pains me to say it, but it’s hard for an artist to mine the same vein for over two decades and not finally succumb to sameiness. The songs simply aren’t as good as on prior efforts. That being said, there is still a reassuring mood set by Keene that still makes this quite listenable.

The reediness of Keene’s voice, the sparkle of his guitar playing and the wistful melody that suddenly swoops in an unexpected place make “Realize Your Mind” a keeper. And it’s hard to resist “A Secret Life of Stories”, a mid-tempo song that has DNA that dates back to Big Star, infused with the natural empathy that Keene brings to everything.

That empathetic quality is even more in evidence on the pretty “Nighttime Crime Scene”. On this song, Keene starts off with just an acoustic guitar, letting his voice center the track. Even when the rest of the instruments come into play, what makes this such an affecting song is how Keene rides along the inviting melodies, which he effortlessly stitches together.

One other fine track is “Please Don’t Come Around”, which showcases the more dramatic side of Keene (think of past classics like “Before the Lights Go Down”). The drama is created by the distinctive lead guitar figure that keys the verses, which build tension until the relative rush of the chorus. Giving this song an extra boost is a cool brief bit of guitar chord dissonance before a killer Keene solo.

As you may discern, I’m conflicted about this album. It doesn’t excite me, and it won’t be the first Keene album I’ll pull out. But since no one else does what Tommy Keene does, the best moments on the disc certainly justified my purchase. This wouldn’t be where to start your Keene collection, but it is a worthwhile part of any such collection.

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