There's a threshold for certain longtime artists beyond which only raw sincerity makes sense. With Egomaniac, the new and final KGFREEZE album self-produced and -performed by Kyle Gervais, we can see that another has found it.
KGFREEZE, of course, is the revolving-door, revolving-genre project that the wildly adaptable and prolific songwriter Gervais has maintained since 2012. Early iterations were attempts at radio-friendly R&B; later material has trended toward melodic, catharsis-seeking rock and roll. At the center of both and all points in between has been this dude, startlingly adept at shifting in and out of musical personas, and, as his live show attests, one of the most dedicated and fully embodied performers around.
Here as a one-man show, the 10-song Egomaniac is naturally a departure from the previous two FREEZE albums. It truly is all Gervais. Something like his own version of Jeff Buckley’s My Sweetheart the Drunk (minus the being dead part), Egomaniac is a farewell songbook of mostly fleshed-out sketches for pop and indie-rock fixations. Some seem like vessels for kvetches about the music industry ("Egomaniac"). Some keep with his project's anything-goes spirit, welcoming goofy ideas as warmly as good ones (like "Nightvision," in which Gervais sings clunker lines about working at the mall en route to wishing he had nocturnal powers). Some offer refreshingly confessional and heartfelt lyrics (like "Satisfied" and "Soda Pressed," both highlights).
The album benefits from its selectively lo-fi production (mostly present in the programmed drums; Gervais's guitar, bass and synth work is excellent). We can totally imagine them as full-fledged rock songs, but it's almost nicer to hear them in this abstracted state. KGFREEZE has always been an exercise in the expressions of Gervais’s literacy of the formal vocabulary of rock and pop music. Here, he allows himself to indulge in another, more informal one, inviting us all to imagine a FREEZE that might have been.
KGFREEZE | album release with Johnny Cremains + Pretty Sad | Jan 19 | Sat 8:30 pm | Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St, Portland | $7-10
We're all in on this witty, soulful collection of headtrip jams and lyrical riffs from Bright Boy, the moniker of Portland emcee/producer Said Anwar Cato King, who produced just about every note on this debut EP/album (with some help credited to longtime collaborator Teal Child, also of Altered Gee). Cato King released a cassette mixtape about a year ago, but Power Absolute should be treated as a moment finally arrived, a playful yet definitive expression of an artist, one that local folks have been stoked to see play live and collaborative sets a few years now, coming into his own.
Much of the 11-track set dwells in the boom bap/funk/electro-soul province of hip hop production. yet unlike a lot of its neighbors rarely falls into background music. Bright Boy's more interested in his tracks' capacity for adventure than their ability to settle into steady, crowd-pleasing grooves. We can appreciate that, and following the dude as he listens to his instincts is well rewarded, whether it leads to weird quips about the powers of invisibility ("Jah Put It On The Eart'"), Black American cultural reference points (a dialogue from the 1974 film Claudine on "The High Step"), and serene self-help axioms about magic changing the world (in "Return of the Master").
A lively number of dialogue samples and interludes keep the album's balance between sarcasm and sincerity. Opening track "Japanese Whiskey" begins with a string of "yo mama" jokes from an episode of Bebe's Kids and ends with Cato King waxing about the beauty of the stars in the sky. He makes use of some odd and spooky modulation in "On My," his vocals in and out of the mix as a twitchy rhythm paces his jittery synth line. "Crazy Erryday" pairs an absolutely huge drum track to some charmingly thirsty lyrics, while "The Show Shot" plays like the album's most straightforward rap track, with Cato King's half-serious, half-self-conscious persona hinting at just one of the possible futures for him.
Power Absolute is a satisfying and unpredictable album, with a bunch of delightful easter eggs and a few frustrating moments (mostly due to Cato King's tendency to make hard left turns when things are settling into a groove). Besides its smart, silly, and exciting tracks, one of the album's distinct pleasures is that it somehow invites the listener in to the artist's process. Bright Boy treats intuition and improvisation like north stars, and it's easy to follow his gaze.
Bright Boy | "SPACE New Year's Eve Party" | Dec 31 | Mon 9 pm | SPACE, 538 Congress St, Portland
The self-titled album from Buzzy, a grungeish alt-rock Portland quartet, seems to bookend the band's best work. Two-and-a-half minute "Warshaw" is a hell of an opener. The rhythm section comes out swinging, all taut and tension, as William Lang slices it open with his guitar. All of this seems to propel singer Hayley Cummings into total powerhouse mode. Here and elsewhere on the album, her soaring vocals make up Buzzy's beating heart.
So it’s a minor drag that much of the rest of the album doesn’t get the blood pressure up. The album's other tracks don't approach the high mark of "Warshaw," though plenty of fine moments that hint at the band's future. Tracks like "Scotch Tape" and "Whiplash" are solidly executed additions to the loud-quietloud formula, recalling '90s alt-rock groups like L7 or (dare I say) Alice in Chains, while closer "Moth" shows off a nice synergy between Lang's guitar work and Cummings' will to melody. Others can drag. A good chunk of the album feels like it meanders at the same slow-to-mid tempo pace, while a couple songs feel like they're still in jam stage. All of Buzzy’s discrete elements are there — Cummings’ impressive vocals, the heavy shoegaze-meets-Nirvana riffs of Lang’s guitar work, Matt Boldebrook’s thunderously low-end tension; Grant Mason’s evolving dynamism as a drummer — but on this album, they sound a bit reserved, like they’re not yet fully cohered, which may make the explosive energy they found on the opening track hard to locate.
This early in the band’s life, and after multiple lineup changes, there’s plenty to be excited about. The band play an album release show at Geno's Friday (said to be Lang's last). This album’s worthy of buzz, but don’t be surprised if they soon blow it away.
Buzzy | CD release with Hopeless Losers + Gizzards + Black Mica | December 28 | Fri 8:30 pm | Geno's Rock Club, 625 Congress St, Portland | $8