This Is Where I Keep It is the second release by Simon Kean, who calls himself Hedaya for the purposes of album releases. Both of his albums came out in 2004, after having been worked on for a few years, and, for some reason, the label felt compelled to send this one to EvilSponge for review purposes. So i haven't heard his other release, just this one. And it's … interesting.
One thing you'll notice right away when listing to This Is Where I Keep It is Kean's voice. It is deep and clear with clipped pronunciation, and it is recorded way up front in the mix. His singing style and the clearness imparted to his vocals by the production remind me a lot of Assemblage 23. At least, i think that is the right band name. See, Minion-affiliate Sparklehonkey likes to listen to throbbing goth rave music when we carpool home from The EARL late at night, and there is one band that she keeps playing (i am fairly certain it is Assemblage 23) wherein the vocalist sounds exactly like Simon Kean. In fact, i consistently have to ask, "Is this Hedaya?" when she puts it on. Which of course prompts her to yell back, "What is Hedaya?". So, anyway, my point is this: the up front production and really careful pronunciation remind me of a goth/rave act. And that is something i had to get over in order to enjoy the album.
You see, most people would never classify Hedaya as a goth act, much less one with ravish leanings. The music consists primarily of guitar, strummed forcefully. Behind his guitar playing, Kean has layered loops of keyboards, strings, bass, and occasional drum. The overall effect is of traditional pop music, despite the somewhat strange way in which the music is constructed. (And yes, Kean is credited with all of the music on this record.)
Which brings me to another comparison that has stuck with me as i listen to this album: Matt Johnson of The The. In a similar manner, early The The records consisted of Matt Johnson singing over various loops. And, like Kean, the vocals were intimate, almost whispered at times, as if he were imparting some deep dark secret to just you. The difference between Kean and Johnson is that Johnson managed to seem LOUD, even when he was whispering his vocals, whereas Kean often sounds truly quiet, and sometime the vocals even get lost in the mix, overwhelmed by the backing music.
Anyway, Kean makes an interesting record, and, after repeated listens, i have found much to enjoy here. Let me go over a few of the album's highlights.
The fifth track on the album is aptly titled No. Five (Part I – His Story), and it begins with a slight guitar arpeggioed over a scratchy keyboard loop. A lovely cello riff joins in, mournful and the perfect accompaniment to his whispered voice. It coasts along, somewhat creepy, under the ever present keyboard loop. It's a good song, but personally i do not want to know exactly what "his story" is, because i suspect that it's not a happy one at all.
The next song, Bind, continues the generally creepy theme. He keeps singing, "Porn for the blind / Phone sex for the deaf" (among other lines) over a strummed guitar and a stuttering drum loop. Eventually he layers an overdriven guitar on as well, and the song builds to a slow burn. I like what he is doing with the two guitar layers here.
A few tunes later we come across Do Mine?, which starts with a very nice chugging guitar riff and a simple tambourine rhythm. This builds to a nice frenzy, with the guitar whirring away, and the drum loop echoed slightly for a hint of a dub effect. This is catchy and nice.
However, i think that Kean saves his best tune for last. The album ends with Stendhal, which, inexplicably, rocks. The guitar is more forceful here, and there is some nice drumming (which might still be from a machine, i can't exactly tell, although on this one tune it sounds "live"). The more forceful instrumentation counterpoints his voice rather nicely. In fact, this tune is undoubtedly a highpoint, and i wish that Kean would explore this type of full instrumentation in more detail.
Overall i think that, although Mr. Kean has some interesting ideas, his voice and singing style are not quite up to the burden of supporting the album. That is, i think he leans a bit too much on the voice, and the instrumentation is often too sparse. Perhaps he would be better off working with a band, rather than playing all of the instruments himself. Not that he is untalented at any instrument he plays here, but rather that having another human being present would make the songs richer. At least, that's my guess.
So this is a fine release, and shows some potential. I am curious to hear where Kean goes with next.