Some artists emulate their influences, refining and polishing and taking the next logical step. Others absorb and combine the elements that inspire them. Few are actually able to soak up a lifetime of musical input and create an identity that is so definitely their own, instantly recognizable and as unique as a fingerprint. Ladies and gentlemen, once again, here’s Kevin Hambrick.
A local musical stalwart for years, Hambrick’s been painting the town with Big Red and Rojo, Blueberry Hurricane and the Orange Opera as well as performing in various solo and duo situations. His latest release, Serotonin, lacks an assigned color but provides plenty of sonic hues, light and dark and grey.
The album kicks off with “These Days,” which features a stentorian blast of keyboards, guitars and midtempo drums and a rapid-fire lyrical barrage worthy of “I Am the Walrus.” After a dreamy, warbly buildup, the song ascends to a chaotic finish - a perfect introduction and counterpoint to the subdued hush of track number two, “There.” Hambrick treads relatively new ground here, wrapping the song in a dark yet comforting aural blanket that draws the listener in. A gorgeous tune.
This is Hambrick’s most varied release to date, as well as his most nuanced. Interesting textures abound throughout the disc, from seasick organs to art-damaged distorto-guitars to gentle waves of accordion. Of course, in the wrong hands such goodies would all be so much clever window dressing, but the solid songwriting here allows these effects to help cast the mood and shade of each track, enhancing rather than stealing the show.
“Some Kind of Love” shimmers and glides on a slow vibe evocative of slowcore progenitors Galaxie 500 before winding up to a full-blown psych rock ending, complete with disorienting stereo pans and backward effects. Vocals are also molded and treated. The layered feline T-Rex vox and handclaps in “Out of Focus” give the song a timeless feel, while Hambrick’s distorted, distressed singing on “Breathe” both creeps and soars. Harmonies have always been a staple in Kevin’s songs, and they’re present in spades on Serotonin. Fans of classic Beatles and Zombies harmonies will not be disappointed here.
Though the record signals growth and slight departure from previous discs, some tunes hearken back: “Laydown” offers a simple (and more than adequate) acoustic and drum arrangement, while keyboards, guitars and vocals swirl around each other in the psychedelic circus of the title track (with hint of mid-80s Aussie indie rock to boot).
One minor gripe: There’s no lyric sheet included in the CD packaging. Perhaps Hambrick could see fit to post them on his website, www.kevinhambrick.com.
The album was a self-recorded affair using a bare minimum of equipment, with Hambrick handling all the instruments. Who knows what he would emerge with if given the opportunity to hole up in a 48-track studio for a few months?
Rumor has it that a San Francisco filmmaker is shooting a documentary about Kevin and a new record is almost finished. Let’s hope both projects see the light of day soon, and enjoy this fine effort in the meantime.
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