Tuesday, October 5, 2010

KC Bowman - Fresher Tin Villages - 1998

KC Bowman understands that a song should never be any longer than necessary, and so his solo debut (after two releases as leader of the loosely organized collective the Preoccupied Pipers) features 20 tunes ranging from 30 seconds to four and a half minutes. What's most impressive is that, unlike many who work in similarly constricted time restraints (such as Guided By Voices or Alastair Galbraith), the shortest songs are as well-constructed as the longest, rather than feeling like mere sketches or fragments. In fact, the first five tracks feel like one long, varied song. It's an odd, impressive achievement, as is the rest of this album. So what does Bowman sound like? Imagine if the Apples in Stereo became considerably less hyperactive and then recruited XTC's Colin Moulding as their primary singer/songwriter. The Davis, CA, native favors sturdy mid-tempo melodies, alternately rocking ("Cuban Illness Anxiety"), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ("Capital I"), quirkily giddy ("Cactus League Game"), and sweetly melancholic ("Pumpkins Angels"). Over this inviting base, Bowman lays lyrics that range from shy declarations of love disguised as science lessons (as in the genuinely lovely "Spacegirl") to tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious social protest (the album's best track, "Be Nice to Plants"). Like his kindred spirits Robyn Hitchcock and R. Stevie Moore, Bowman seems incapable of writing a boring or clichéd lyric. Also like Hitchcock and Moore, Bowman favors a D.I.Y. approach that simultaneously eschews both rough edges and overly lush instrumentation. Even the solo guitar pieces have a crystalline quality about them, and the more arranged tracks have a cozy, small-scale feel that's the natural result of recording nearly all the instruments (save for occasional spots of trumpet, flute, clarinet, violin, sax, and congas) oneself. Fresher Tin Villages is a quirky, intelligently crafted delight from start to finish. -AMG


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