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Ken Michaels
The Last Of Its Kind
Zomo Music

Naming a record, especially one that's being self-released, The Last Of Its Kind, could lend the impression of pretension, but Ken Michaels makes it seem more precocious than egomaniac. These 14 tracks color folk and 60's pop with electronic tones and vocals delivered in a confession booth whisper. It calls to mind the The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but with a digital twist that sometimes works and sometimes falters. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but when Michaels approaches oft-repeated themes he does it with a sensitivity and modesty that lends the impression of an artist doing more with less.

"So So" is a standout track - a perfectly bittersweet song about helpless resignation that seems perfectly content with its own pop sentimentality. When Michaels sings "She's so, so, so in love / and she's so sentimental about it / she's so, so, so in love / and I can't do a thing about it," a droning cello sets the backdrop for a performance that resists the temptations of cliché and indulgence to which so many songwriters succumb.

It's a boundary Michaels also negotiates on "Up And Down The Aisle". With a Turtles-esque cadence and understated harmony vocals the track smacks of 60's pop. It's undeniably fun, and while lyrics like "relax, you're never going to get to the facts / you're wrapped up like a ball of wax" are annoying (is a ball of wax wrapped up or rolled up?) the sincerity with which Michaels treats his wayward subject sounds genuinely comforting.

These pop numbers are when Michaels is at his best. It's true that his use of electronic instruments and textures is laudably unique, but sometimes it seems like the analog and digital are struggling for equal billing. The subtle organ melody and desert-dry guitar at the start of "Come Rain Or Shine" are too easily overpowered by the mathematically hard filter on the vocals. Effectively marrying both elements would require the kind of sensitivity Michaels brings to his lyrics and without it the pairing of a folk vocals and spacey synthesizer noise on "To Lose" seems to pull the listener in more than one direction.

Fortunately, they are both directions worth traveling, and so while The Last Of Its Kind suffers from an acute personality disorder at times, it works well for itself at others. Taking sounds and subjects that have been part of pop music for 50 years and attempting to usher them into the digital age is a risky business, but Michaels avoids many of the pitfalls inherit.

-Jake McCarthy

Track Listing:
1. Little Fish
2. So So
3. Be Whatever
4. Highlight
5. Up And Down The Aisle
6. Big Skies
7. She's Coming Back
8. All Around Us
9. Come Rain Or Shine
10. What You Say
11. There's A Place
12. Can't Reach You
13. To Lose
14. Summer Love

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