Kirk Lake – S/T

The third album by British singer-songwriter, author, spoken word artist, and boxing expert, the stylishly brooding Kirk Lake excels in injecting understated pop hooks into his subdued dynamic. While the result is rarely overwhelmingly dynamic, there is little denying the intelligence Lake conveys through his sharp literary focus. Still, that’s not to say that Lake presents a veritable existential buffet, but best bets are on his lyrical prowess to be the defining feature of his music.
The cool, jazzy starkness of the opening “I’ll Take It As Read” establishes what is repeatedly confirmed through this set: these songs aren’t going to beg for your attention. Nope, you’ll have to come to them on their terms, as Lake’s style is hard to tie down or trace to any particular musical tradition. And ultimately that’s a good thing, as the gloomy gliding balladry of “Nothing to No One,” dotted with well chosen minor chord changes, has a stately vibe that compliments rather nasty lyrics like “all the things you say and do mean nothing to anyone else” in ways not commonly heard. Similarly unconventional, the looped drums paired with solemn guitar strums of “Morphology” delivers similarly pessimistic lines like “first fish with lungs, first lizard with wings, evolution sets you on extinction’s path” with a Portishead-like vibe.
Just as noteworthy, the unpolished noise collage of “The Wedding Song” derives hiccupping rhythms from extinguishers, bottles, ashtrays and dustbins and is shrouded in blurting horn sections, funky organ, and walking guitar bass lines that almost call to mind Mellow Gold-era Beck. Lake even comes off a little funkified himself, dropping beat poetry over the cacophony of sounds. The smoky electric piano and spiked guitar strums of “Everyday Lingers” win small victories, with squawking sax and feedback-washed guitar solos, adding unpredictability to occasionally over-balanced sounds.
When not dabbling in electronic textures, Lake approaches a more common singer-songwriter folk-based sensibility, with sparse and lonely guitar and brushed drums populating “A Beautiful Ending” in ways reminiscent of Pete Krebs. Further, the dark acoustic guitar tones of “Painted Horses” find Lake incorporating a little optimism, softly crooning “when the carousal takes you away from me, it brings you back” in a way that could evoke comparisons to Tom Petty.
One thing that does standout about this release is that Lake doesn’t sound in any way British. He has no noticeable accent nor does his music incorporate any of the hallmarks of British pop. His music really has no overriding theme, musically or lyrically. Carefully balancing ambitious experimentation with touches of bored indifference, many listeners are bound to react with a certain level of ambivalence. If someone like Lou Reed released an album like this, it might be hailed as a creative comeback, but coming from a virtual unknown like Lake, it’s unlikely to draw much attention. Ultimately pleasant but slowly endearing, Kirk Lake makes music to sympathize with gray, rainy days.