Prolific underground artists rarely sound as polished and arranged as King Creosote, the home recording project of Scottish songwriter Kenny Anderson which has reportedly released over 40 albums in 15 years. He’s been doing it himself, releasing music on his own Fence label since the mid-90’s, at first in small run CD-Rs from his own then-cutting edge external CD burner unit, later in larger runs, and now under the Domino label, both across the pond and now in the USA. For his first stateside release, Domino presents Thrawn, a compilation of his past work from six different albums dating back to 2003. It presents a picture of Anderson as a gifted songwriter and heartfelt singer not limited by a signature style, but who still manages to express a strong personality and distinct creative voice.
At first blush, this sounds anything but underground, with production that would be considered AOR by American indie standards, but the fact should be stated that many of these tracks were rawer upon their initial release before they were rerecorded for proper release on a larger label, so an argument can be made that Anderson’s career arc has followed a path similar to that of John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, another sly and prolific singer-songwriter who has cleaned up his act without losing much of his prestige. Regardless, Anderson is compelling playing without a lot of the gimmicks many artists with less assertive personalities fall back on, allowing most of the focus to fall on his voice and lyrics. His sweet tenor sounds chipper on the uptempo tracks (“Homeboy”), but flits up, stretches out, and quietly lilts on slower tracks to reveal the yearning and melancholy at the center of his lyrics. Anderson’s Scottish accent is apparent in his vowel sounds and, in line with the widespread belief that a Scottish accent is reassuring and trustworthy, his storytelling voice is quickly ingratiating.
The songs are filled with sad saps and shy chaps, almost always living unsatisfied lives or dreaming of the companion who would make it right. In “Bootprints” a couple goes through a roll call of hygiene rituals in preparation for a night on the town, and after being rebuffed for asking for a quickie before they head out, the singer is perturbed by his wife’s drunken cussing as they stumble home, pining for “the girl I used to know”. The dancehall skronk of this track makes it an ideal lead track and makes one think of The Kinks, but belies the relatively more dour outlook of later tracks. He uses the board game Clue to clever effect when excoriating a cheater in the Fleetwood Mac-styled kiss off “You’ve No Clue Do You”. There’s more Kinks-iness on ”King Bubbles In Sand” which is a wistful little number with hand percussion and acoustic guitar, and like the protagonist in “All of My Friends Were There” the singer admonishes whoever’s listening that “you can all have a laugh on me”. “No Way She Exists” is a strummy plea that chugs along building momentum, trying to motivate a friend out from behind the computer and out into the world to look for a mate. Anderson’s uptempo stuff, as polished as it is, spans a spectrum of styles enough to be surprising, but it’s his slow, hymn-like songs which give his songwriting depth and help flesh out his oddball side. “Twin Tub Twin” wrenches the sadness of disconnection out of an encounter at a Laundromat with a few piano chords and ghostly vocal samples tapered together like smoke ribbons. “And the Racket They Made” is a somber eulogy – an attempt to push out the grief by focusing on positive memories of someone lost.
There is something about the simultaneously humdrum and critical attitude that is quintessentially British, and I can’t stop thinking of King Creosote as an amalgamation of Ray Davies’ aptitude for describing situations and characters and Badly Drawn Boy’s more directly emotional British flavor of indie. Anderson’s modest, workaday approach is exactly the sort of artistry which gets overlooked when the music culture turns into a perpetual motion hype machine. Thankfully, it is also the type of approach which engenders devoted following at first contact, and his continuing devotion to the craft has slowly brought him the attention he deserves as word has spread. Let’s hope this compilation is just the first sign of the ready stateside availability of all subsequent King Creosote releases, because it would be a shame to have to wait another 40 more albums before we’re offered more.