By Chris Cooper
Truth be told, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of — here’s the old fogey coming out — “electronic” music. I hear bleeps and bloops, repetitive motifs that are often harmonically half baked and build and build into mostly nothing, and as far as lyrical content is concerned- what lyrical content? Now, my point of reference is a little limited, because if you genuinely dislike something, you’re really not going to pursue much of it. I hate brussel sprouts, had a bad experience as a child with them, and thus never ate them again. So I’m not the prime candidate to ask for advice on brussels sprouts. Or electronic music.
That being said, musician/photographer/writer Michael O’Shea’s Kinjac project hasn’t left my CD player since he dropped off an advance copy. 7 Years Bad Luck is a rare combo of ultra tweaked samples, live drums and bass, distorted vocals and sometimes hyper politically charged intent that initially left me scratching my head before fumbling for the “play” button again... and again. It’s not often that a disc comes along (especially one from a genre of music I typically avoid) that leaves me as dumbfounded as this one has. Of course to anyone more familiar with the style than I, the influences and points of reference are most likely obvious. But to my “guitar/bass/drum/keys/vocal” oriented ears, this stuff sounds intriguingly and almost uncomfortably different.
“The Fall” builds for three minutes before the vocals kick in. It’s that whole “going somewhere” thing again — and go somewhere it does. Structurally, it’s a pretty interesting trick; save the verse for the last minute of the song. Thematically, this is fairly dark stuff as well. Many tunes seem like studies on finding hope among an immense lack thereof, with verses and choruses tangled upon themselves until really, they’re neither. Repetition is used for impact, melodic ideas are shifted and twisted each time they come around again — on the one hand, this is pretty confusing stuff for the “pop” trained ears. On the other, that’s likely why it works as well as it does.
And in the “creepy aural nightmares” corner, we have a disorienting chromatic accordion melody fighting with fuzzed out drum’n’bass on the appropriately titled “Terror.” The sequencing of the tracks on 7 Years Bad Luck is crafty as well, where one song starts and another stops is often a mystery; long instrumental sections give way to sudden bursts of noise, then part of a verse, then everything goes haywire again. “I Walk” operates on such a principle- you think you know what’s happening for minute or so, then you’re wondering if it’s still the same song. A cut that’s sure to stand out is O’Shea’s sampling of Dennis Kucinich’s fierce “Wake Up America” speech into the album’s closing track, which is preceded by an ominous instrumental track cleverly entitled “Optimism.”
Let’s make it clear that Michael O’Shea is this whole project. Every knob that was turned, string plucked (or beaten into submission), microphone placed, vocal delivered; every bit of recording and mastering was done in a modest home studio by O’Shea. And the quality of production made one of the rarest of occurrences happen: while spinning 7 Years Bad Luck at work, a customer stopped in the middle of the store, stared at the speakers, and asked me with widened eyes “What are we listening to?” This wasn’t a new major label release. This is, frankly, pretty challenging stuff. By a local musician. The look on that customer’s face something akin to having been hit by a truck, and really liked it.
If this is any indication of what’s to come on the local music scene for the New Year, consider me inspired. Release date for 7 Years Bad Luck is Jan. 20 — yes folks, Inauguration Day. I’d strongly recommend seeking this one out.