Bubbly Electronic Pop
Desperate Spirits – June 2, 2017
Big Fresh (and its leader, John Ferguson) are icons of Lexington music. They’ve released a handful of albums since their start in the late 90s – the most recent full album, Moneychasers, came out in 2011 (and was one of the first Lexington-made records I ever bought), they put out a couple songs in 2016, and now have plans to release a pair of EPs in 2017. The first of those, Fall Preview, is a five-song trip through the band’s style and musicality – each with its own personality and a different guest singing lead.
“Tongku” is fronted by Beijing’s Bianbian, opening with a trio of guitar, piano, and shakers that give the track the feel of a ticking clock. The vocals here are in Mandarin (Google Translate tells me that Tòngkǔ means ‘pain’ or ‘suffering’), but the song’s lovely vocal melody conveys a balanced mixture of joy and melancholy. Robert Schneider, Ferguson’s bandmate in The Apples in Stereo, sings on “Paralyzed,” the EP’s first single. The song is a fast-moving pop track, buoyant with whirring synthesizers and horn lines, covering Ferguson’s upbringing in rural, Christian Kentucky as Schneider sings “I used to sing of a heaven far way, where no one ever dies.”
Former Big Fresh singer, Kate Pope, takes the lead on “Yes Yes Yes,” which feels the most like songs from Moneychasers to me: it’s a funky track with pulsing synth bass and quick stabs from trombone and saxophone. ATTEMPT’s Trevor Tremaine takes us through “Rock ‘n’ Roll Beans,” a short, ridiculously fun track that name drops Bruce lee, Lee Iacocca, and the Ayatollah (among others). The EP ends with “Like Swayze,” sung by Lexington’s Michelle Hollis. It’s a smoky, piano-driven slow jam that crescendos through a heavy second chorus before descending into a disorienting haze.
Fall Preview covers a great range of sounds, thanks in larger part to its many guest singers, but it’s tough to imagine these songs without Ferguson and the other constant pieces in Big Fresh’s sound. The group continues its reputation as one with a knack for unusual (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) pop songs, but the musicality, fidelity, and colors on this EP elevate the music to a new level. Fall Preview is full of substance while remaining fresh and hugely fun – it’s a great EP, and Big Fresh is a listening experience I can’t recommend enough.
Tracks I Liked: Tongku!, Paralyzed!!, Yes Yes Yes!, Rock ‘n’ Roll Beans!, Like Swayze!!!
Ben Southworth – May 25, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Soul Pop Fusion
Desperate Spirits // Hop Hop Records – February 14, 2017
As an album, Personal Fables is one of the richest collection of eight songs to come out of Lexington in several years. This meticulous orchestration and arranging is made that much more impressive after realizing it was written and performed almost singularly by Trevor Tremaine – minus trumpet and saxophone, everything you hear here is his doing. The songs here are so densely-packed that they become fresher on each repeated listen, propelling them forward with constant momentum as they roll into the next of a seemingly endless supply of ideas.
The album opens with the manic “Personal Best,” which rolls the bassline, drums, guitar, and vocal riffs into one smooth hook – the track yields toward the final third of the song, setting up a great guitar solo through its end. “Life and a Day” has maybe the catchiest and most accessible chorus of the album, yet the song still manages to break the mold with its contrasting bridge (plus, I love the line “I am an idling time machine, and I’m going nowhere slow” that sets it up). On the first few listens, “The One and Only,” didn’t stick out to me a lot, but the tight rhythm and arrangement in the chorus eventually reveals itself as delightfully smooth and well-done. “Incompetence” is perhaps the track the benefitted the most from multiple listens. The lyrics carry the story from start to finish, and the lush instrumentation throughout the track make it one of the most immaculate, enjoyable listens of the album.
“Getting It” is punchy, clever, and self-referential – it pushes and pulls throughout the track, forcing you to listen closely (in which case you’ll hear little treats like “smoking squares outside the Speedway,” a quick line which has rolled around my head all week). The album reaches its most experimental point on “Beyond Cliche'” which walks the harmony all over the map, stretches an angular melody over top of it (while managing to make it fit naturally on top of the unusual progression), and packs in another quick, sharp spoken-word bridge. “You Have Lived” may be the album’s peak – as the penultimate track, it is arranged as a ballad, with only vocals and a shimmering organ. The lyrics here are just as sharp as on the rest of Personal Fables (and, at times, they even lean into the same tongue-in-cheek territory that many of the other songs inhabit), ruminating on the line “a life of no regrets is the only kind worth living.” Tremaine sings through a lifetime of missed opportunities, and by the time the song nears its finish, it swells into a gorgeously multi-tracked chorus of “you have lived” that carries through to the end. Closing the album is the quick “The Worst Thing that Could Happen,” which brings things full-circle into the same exciting territory of the album’s opener.
This album is thoroughly enjoyable – it manages to be smart, inventive, and wordy, while remaining catchy and fun. Its singular point of creative origin becomes more apparent upon each repeated listen, and Trevor never favors density of ideas over the ability of these ideas to work in harmony with one another – they’re simply arranged in a way that works. Personal Fables is a must-hear album, and is unlike anything else I’ve heard from Lexington.
Tracks I Liked: Personal Best!, Life and a Day!, Incompetence!!, Beyond Cliche’!, You Have Lived!!!
Ben Southworth – February 5, 2017 – Kenwick Place