Westside Royal, the new musical offering from She’s A Keeper, is out now on the Internet [the music IRL is at a party on Saturday at Davey’s Uptown, $6, 10:30]. The five new songs wash over with confidence and calm. It’s a professional and creatively successful piece of work that the band has offered up for critical review by The Deli KC.
Upfront, let’s be clear: I like this album. I’d like-button this album, probably, but that’s not the point. After over a dozen streams or so I hear plenty of good stuff, great stuff, and yet—and always—there are compositional choices inevitably worth questioning. Today this will be me, tomorrow it will be someone else, ultimately it is you. There is something really nice about being critical of material that strives for and achieves a certain level of quality. We get to dig a little deeper and talk about the little things, the details. So thanks for the new stuff, guys, and allowing us to pick apart this awesome EP a little. Let’s get into it…
Album opener is “Wannabe.” Great opener. A strong sense of longing in the mood and lyrical content creates magnetism. The music is lively and progressive with great drum work and a really nice piano feature midway. The whole track blossoms and just feels good. The only part that sticks out to me as a missed opportunity is the lack of sonic interest after the piano section. It’s a transitional period in which the band hits a wall (a sequence all in unison) that serves to de-escalate the intensity of the building momentum. What it lacks is some sort of textural context, some color to complement such a straightforward approach. It’s a standard technique and is cultivated by the dynamics of a live show. For a recording it might be more effective to provide a sound to either carry the listener’s attention as an auditory focal point, or as an embellishment to the simple, homophonic texture of the band.
And, of course, once I criticize the band’s use of color I have immediate cause for praise. The second track, “Staying Up” is my favorite kind of song: refreshing, reflective, organic. From the immaculate roll of the opening chord, the music unfolds with elegant gravity. Imagine leaves falling. Jangly guitars fit snugly in a vibrant mix and are accompanied by tasteful and highly complimentary banjo picking. This is one of the most unique moments on the album; Keeper finds a place to reside comfortably and welcomes the listener to a sound of its own. The vocal work at the end is really cool and extremely well done. Because I like this track so much, I wish there was more to bite off lyrically, but I think this is a minor smudge in light of the track’s overall magnificence.
The first tidbit of attitude we get comes immediately with the onset of “I Won’t,” a cool, breezy, kinetic track lushed out quite beautifully. The egg shaker, for instance, is a breath of fresh air. The drums are built logically and done with precision. The dirty guitar would contribute more with a more vibrant tone, maybe more chord definition. But, the clean guitar work is spot-on. I love the tone and the slinky riff that carries the groove and harmony. I am looking forward to experiencing this song live. It seems honed by interaction.
On “Dead Serious” we get the most intriguing literary premise and the lyrics have more color, a wider vocabulary, and more devices. This sort of lyrical craft is a great complement to Keeper’s instantly amicable sonic stylings. We also get a cool, augmented, kinda hypnotic chord structure bringing in some welcomed harmonic struggle in the midst of the album’s overall consonance. The outro feels fresh and playful with that augmented bit making a delicate return.
“Pennsylvania” closes the EP nicely. It’s a sentimental ballad about a far off place, a far off time. My initial thought is a harsh one: Do we need more of these? The track goes down easy... maybe too easy, but again, Keeper does it well. The band stays concise and resists the urge to include a four-minute chant section that helps keep the song lean and honest. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous melody and the style is executed with great skill, I just can’t help but wonder if the band could have been a bit more adventurous in its closing statement. I am being quite critical of a track that is, for all intents and purposes, flawless. This is food for thought. Here is a band that has a great following, great instincts and musicianship: Do we have the faith to follow them into unknown territory?
Finally, here’s my dilemma with the piece and the EP in general: while the band packs a little too much sugar in their recipe sometimes, the music ultimatelyleaves a good taste in my mouth. It also leaves me with an undeniable sense of peace and closure. Which, damn it all if that’s not the point.
Overall, it’s obvious that She’s A Keeper is a group of talented musicians who know how to make a solid recording. Due credit must also be given to engineer/producer Joel Nanos at Element Recording, where the project came to life… which is just down the street from what I can only assume is our mutually local liquor store of which the title may have been adopted (my hunch).