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
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.
1. Little Fish
2. So So
3. Be Whatever
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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