Kerosene Stars – A Million Little Trees EP

Kerosene Stars - A Million Little Trees EP

Kerosene Stars – A Million Little Trees EP

With every review I write I become more and more conflicted with my ability to write them. Here’s why:  words cannot do what music does, and vice-versa.   Historically, I already know about these limitations. Henri Peyre warns, “Every critic and professor with any sense has warned readers and students twenty times over against the temptation of proposing analogies between literature, painting, and music. Pitfalls open up, yawning, at every step on this very slippery terrain.” Even more than writers who themselves make use of words and concepts, artists become annoyed with critics who translate their works into words and even when they mean to be kind, resent them. ‘“Artists have new eyes, art critics have spectacles,” Paul Eluard mocked.  Much earlier, the peevish Degas (who however tried his hand at poetry and had friends among man of letters) had declared: “Letters explain the Arts without understanding them.  The Arts understand Letters without explaining them.”

So, it’s with a great deal of trepidation that I begin to unpack these four songs from Scott Schaafsma (bass, vocals), Andy Seagram (guitar, backing vocals),  Yoo Soo Kim (viola, keyboards), Jim Adair (drums), and Tom Sorich (percussion). I’ll start backward—ass over top—with where the four songs move me as a listener.  Being raised in the Midwest on a steady stream of hard-rock, blues, jazz, bluegrass – the mish-mosh of what has now morphed  into ‘Americana’  music – I can hear so much of this genre already perfected in this band, especially as the EP winds its way towards the end in songs “Whether Or Not” and “Any Other Way”.   The guitar skills (both bass and lead) demonstrated on these last two songs are particularly remarkable – although very quietly so.  It’s all happening beneath the surface, like a quiet ferocity.  And I have to ask, why would this kind of skill be kept a secret from listeners?

Songs like “Eleanor Dear” show off a fast lyrical ability. The smart, effective pop song, the song that knows how to be commercially successful is right here.  I think yes, it’s only a matter of time for this group, right?  And so I’ll say it now, please hold onto the musicianship that I hear packed inside these pitch-perfect songs, songs that happen so fast with such accomplishment that they run the risk of being lost.  Let loose to greater and wider experimentation and exploration as you continue to grow your portfolio.  As a listener, the commercial appeal of the pop song is over, no matter the genre in which it arrives.  What is profoundly more interesting and appealing about you five is your musicianship together, abundantly obvious from first to last song, and your ability to write lyrics and music, to know your instruments, to listen to and play together, and to create good sound.

The last two songs show range, potential, diversity, depth – a real willingness to follow the sound and explore something more aesthetically driven by the music itself.  Once you begin to create those interesting dynamics and sonorities, I can actually hear it all – the tender and then, not so tender guitars working with the vocals, the soft viola, that smart keyboard, the percussion working along with the kit –  the range of voices with sounds.   You know…all the highs and lows.  And once this starts, the music begins to sound a lot more like life itself, and I can settle into it and listen.