Altitude

Kimon Kirk

Independent release, 2020

http://www.kimonkirk.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/29/2021

There’s a certain golden tint to West Coast rock, a sunny vibe that manages to infiltrate even the darkest work of forebears like Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, and Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. One result is that when new blood comes along to plow this fertile ground, the end product can feel oddly familiar even when it’s entirely original.

There are no covers on this album, and no oiled-and-tanned Wilson brothers or bright-and-brooding Lindsey Buckinghams hiding in its grooves, but LA-based singer-songwriter Kimon Kirk offers one subtle nod after another to each of the above forebears over the course of his second full-length album Altitude. An experienced session and touring bassist/vocalist who’s worked with the likes of Aimee Mann, Sarah Borges, Lori McKenna, Amy Correia, and Alejandro Escovedo, Kirk steps out front here to present a dozen originals while fronting his own five-piece group on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. The fact that Kirk and his band—Lyle Brewer (lead guitar), Jamie Edwards (keys), Jim Haggerty (bass) and John Sands (drums)—recorded this album in the Boston suburbs feels like it has no bearing at all on the record’s sound and feel, which is loose and sharp all at once, and decorated with glinting melodies.

Opener “Evergreen” sets the tone right away with dreamy, rather Wilbury-esque strums over a unhurried rhythm section, developing into a supple melody supporting a clever, rather Buddhist lyric about embracing patience, co-written with Amy Correia and Aimee Mann. A concise electric solo puts the cherry on top, and then we’re into album highlight “Trampoline,” a bouncy country-inflected power-pop number with genuine snap to the rhythm and bright harmonies from co-writer Sarah Borges. Clavinet adds some grease on the lower end of a mostly sunny arrangement featuring another tight bridge and solo. Kirk’s easygoing yet self-assured lead vocals remind of a my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Michael McDermott or Matt Nathanson.

Kirk follows that emphatic one-two punch with a series of engaging vignettes. The mid-tempo “Stranded” sets a scene with novelistic precision, lifted by a breezy groove and melody and a lush vocal arrangement that reminds of Fountains of Wayne when they get serious (a point of reference that comes up again in the cerebral cleverness of “Failed Myopic”). “I’m stranded,” sings the pensive Kirk, “Stranded in my head.” The airy, slumbery-cadenced “What Do I Know” builds to a powerful chorus that feels like a mantra: “What do I know / I know love / I know peace / I know love / I know grief.”

Later highlights include the pairing of “Baby Who Knows,” a sinuous, rippling earworm of a single featuring breathy vocals from Kirk and honeyed harmonies from co-writer Aimee Mann, with the boldest rocker here, the four-on-the-floor “The Girl I Used To Know,” whose brooding verses are punctuated by a giddy bar-band rave-up chorus.

Kirk’s introspective side comes out more strongly on quieter numbers like the daydreamy “I Think Of You,” whose atmospherics include spacy electric strums, a looming synth wash, and gauzy, echoey vocals. “There’s a narrowing of purpose in the altitude,” he sings, “A sharper sense of focus than might otherwise be viewed / I feel a certain oneness with the multitude / And I think of you.” When Kirk goes this direction—as he does again later with the gentle, bluesy ballad “Halfway Right”—his warm, piercing intelligence reminds a bit of Jean-Paul Vest of Last Charge Of The Light Horse.

Kirks wraps things up with a visit to “My Old Neighborhood,” opening with warm acoustic strums that feel like close cousins to the Eagles’ “Best Of My Love.” “You lied when you said we would never get old,” he declares, adding that “I’ve learned to mistrust what’s familiar,” among other sharp observations about the quicksand of nostalgia.

Singer-songwriter albums inevitably hinge on building that inimitable connection between artist and audience. The core question being asked is almost always the same: can you relate? The answer in this case is, absolutely. Kimon Kirk’s Altitude shines a golden melodic light on the darker corners of the human soul, beguiling the listener onto a higher plane. It’s a combination of penetrating intelligence and unapologetic catchiness that’s rare, but shouldn’t be.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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