Portland-based musician Krist Krueger loves trying new things – and succeeding at it. Something of a one-man musical monopoly, he not only performs on stage but is also a professional recording engineer, record label manager, and runs a booking agency. Far from beleaguered by a mind that refuses to rest, Krueger instead uses this to his advantage. Where others only dabble before calling it quits, Krueger acts on his hard-to-contain curiosity in a controlled, calculating manner in order to better himself and his music. How he finds time to sleep is anyone’s guess, though his dedication and hard work repeatedly pay off.
I mention all of this because the new EP by Southerly, his musical moniker, is classic Krueger. As if a previously undiscovered switch flicked on inside his head, this release sounds nothing like Southerly’s earlier LPs. Most accurately representing a state of mind, Champion Of The Noisy Negativists is a brooding soundscape marked by minimalism, both in melody and mood. Undoubtedly, this shift in focus is new to both Krueger and listeners alike. As expected though, the result is stunning.
On Champion Of The Noisy Negativists, Krueger works hard to avoid telling you how to feel, whether by music or through lyrics – there are actually none of the latter. Krueger’s strategy is more nuanced, though, in regards to the sonic aspects of songwriting. For instance, first track “Trials” is largely subdued, characterized by an austere piano that serves as the song’s anchor while synthesized bass, electronic shimmer, and distant drums are inconspicuously added one-by-one. Savvy theory buffs will also note that the melody comes to rest repeatedly on the same perfect fifth interval. Without a tonal third there can be no major or minor chord and as a result, the song is not predetermined to be happy or sad.
It is this spirit of limitless possibilities that makes Southerly’s new EP worthy of such praise. Unlike previous works such as “How To Be A Dreamer”, there are no cheery “doo-doo-doos” or insightful answers on this release, only open-ended questions. Even the unique style on Champion… is hard to define. Part ambient pop, sadcore, and orchestral pop, Krueger has succeeded in avoiding typical categories and clichés. For a usually mellow singer/songwriter he shows wonderful diversity, even utilizing catchy trip-hop beats and distorted guitars as heard on the pentatonic-themed “Repercussions.”
In this vein, Champion… would fit better as a soundtrack to some dialogue-deprived indie film than as a workout jam or commiserating companion post-breakup. Filled with synthesized sounds and slow relaxed beats, these songs compel us to deviate from our standard routine and think about the world from a different perspective. On Champion… Krueger plants the seed of curiosity, though he leaves the story purposefully untold. It is up to the listener to provide context and meaning – to step out of their comfort zone and become a part of the song in order to make the experience uniquely theirs. For Krueger and fans alike, Champion… marks change. This is how we grow.