Brian Kirchner – May – Album Review
Well now! This dude’s just an outright pleasure to listen to, ain’t he?
From what I can tell…this seems kind of like Brian Kirchner’s comeback record. He put out his first two, Nocturnes, and Glass City, both back in 2016 – and aside from having released one of the songs from his new album May in advance last year, it’s been a little quiet in between then and now…unless you know where specifically to find The Zimmermann Tapes EP online that is (links below!). Not entirely sure what he’s been up to, but any set of functioning ears would tell ya that making music should be the real priority. Anyhow. Like I always say, all kinds of things can keep us away from doing what we love and life itself has such a nasty habit of getting in the way of the creativity we enjoy – the only thing that ever really matters is that you end up circling around back to it at some point in time. And here we are – he has! Brian’s officially back in action, May is out & released, and now let’s encourage him to keep going, shall we? This dude’s a tremendously gifted player & it’s been all-out fantastic to experience his music.
Where things always get interesting to me, even in the instrumental realm, is that we only ever really do get so many opportunities to write and record in one lifetime. To me, that makes the choices we make carry even more weight…think of all those bands/artists you know that have chosen to record a cover tune of some kind – they’re probably only going to do that a handful of times in their career, which makes the selection that much harder, and the honor that much more sincere…or at least, it should. While these are all originals from Kirchner on May, a similar logic applies – this entire record is based on a book by Haruki Murakami called The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – which is indeed, interesting to me. I’ll probably never have time to read the book cause y’all keep me so busy listening to your music and then writing about it every single day – but like I said – the same logic applies…at the rate he’s rolling out his albums, Brian’s only going to end up releasing so many within his one lifetime…to choose Murakami’s book as the inspiration is quite intriguing to say the very least. As I always say around these pages of ours – we’ve all gotta write about something – but it is truly interesting to see how we all choose to use the time we have by what it is that we end up choosing to write about. I can’t be the only one that feels this way; it’s just that most of us don’t really acknowledge how short the window of time genuinely is.
What I really like & love, straight off the bat, is that an instrumental concept record is at absolutely no disadvantage to one that would have vocals – trust me on that. Everyone likes to think they’ve got it all spelled out simple & plain until they release it, and realize that the only person the concept really makes its most firm connection to, is quite likely, always the people that actually had a hand in creating it. As for the rest of us, we generally just hear music; we’re happy to listen, yes…but the concept is beyond us. It’s never anything to be offended by, though you’ll find that concept-record folks will surely lament the fact that ‘no one really gets it’ all the time – the bottom line is that if it’s something that inspires YOU, and that translates directly into MORE ART and MORE MUSIC in this world, then you’re all aces friend-o.
As “The Well” started out with such engaging low-tones from the piano and melody on the surface, I felt like it was instantly apparent that we’d all be on solid ground in listening to Brian’s latest album. It’s not long at all before he’s hauling out the chops of his musicianship and displaying a true mastery of his instrument of choice – and you can tell, just be listening, that this man has a full complement of skills at his disposal. More importantly, “The Well” proves that he’s got an insightful gift in knowing when and how to use them – there are parts of this first cut that are flashy, and parts that are more restrained, and Brian seems to navigate both & entwine them with ease. The instantly enticing sound of “The Well” should be all anyone would need in order to know they’d wanna keep listening to May – it’s beautiful, it’s bold, it’s charming, it’s charismatic – and it’s still subtle at the very same time. Very humble when it comes right down to it – Kirchner’s not punching our ears for attention, he’s earning it with his sincerity.
Having grown up around piano music as the son of a professional keyboardist, not only did I have this style of music played all around the house as I grew up on records, tapes, and CDs, but also LIVE right there in my living-room pretty much every morning. I began to be able to hear things in between the melody…things like technique, passion, and how well the space is used in between each note we hear. I listen to a track like “Hen” and I’m genuinely in awe of the way that Brian plays it. It’s a short tune at a mere 2:09 in length, but absolutely maximized when it comes to what you get out of every single second. Absolutely outright fascinating if you ask me – “Hen” was a track I felt like I could happily stay lost within, every time it came on in rotation as I played my way through this album over the past week or so – and it makes all the sense to me in the world that it was one of the few selected as a single to be put out there prior to the release of the full record. Always a tough call in terms of what to choose in that regard when it comes to instrumentally-based tunes, but “Hen” is an exceptionally smart choice – it’s not a typical single by any stretch of the definition, but it’s a song that evokes the wonders of your own imagination, in tandem with hearing the immaculate creativity that emanates from Brian’s piano.
I also feel like the release of “Hen” as a single tells you a lot about the kind of artist that Kirchner wants to be, or at least, how he’d want to be perceived by us folks listening. It’s a very artfully-inclined song – and while I’m not saying that “The Light Up There” doesn’t contain equal merit in that sense, there’s not a doubt in my mind that in terms of single-worthy tunes, this third cut would carry more weight with the people out there for sure. I might like technique, I might like artistic sounds, I might like precision and pace, and how that leads to engaging designs that open up our minds to music we don’t normally listen to – because YES…I DO in fact, like and/or love ALL of these things…but when it comes to the masses out there, a true dose of melody is always going to provide the most accessibility – and that’s where a track like “The Light Up There” comes in shining. There’s a whole lot of greatness to be found within the set of songs on May – but in terms of what we connect with the people out there listening quickly and without hesitation, “The Light Up There” has the melodic advantages that instrumental music requires when it comes to the ears of the masses. It’s one of those songs that, no matter what type of music you would normally listen to, chances are you’ll find something to love about “The Light Up There” – it’s got universal accessibility in its pensive, thought-provoking vibes, and pure emotions in the way it’s played.
“The Call” has that inspired spark you wanna hear in its main hooks…a great example of a compelling track to listen to – the kind of music that you’d know fits somewhere snugly within the soundtrack of our lives. It’s got drama, it’s got beauty, it’s got intensity, it’s got LIFE in its veins…it might only be less than two-minutes in length, but a track like “The Call” carries a lot of weight in the lineup. For as short as it is, it’s highly memorable – and I’d imagine there’s a great argument to be made that experiencing this record pretty much demands a start-to-finish type of attention anyhow…cherry picking any one single tune out of the lineup wouldn’t be taken completely out of context, but the surrounding tracks all certainly play a tremendous role in how we absorb the material overall – make sense? “The Call” can easily stand on its own just as any other on this record could…but likely more enjoyable with the rest of the set along with it for sure. I’m impressed by how captivating even the shortest cuts on May truly are.
Chances are, what you’ll hear on “Wake Up, Toru” is what started this whole chain of events, and the record itself getting made. I’m just theorizing here…I’ve got no actual proof – “Wake Up, Toru” was the first track released in advance of May last year in 2021…and sometimes, it’s that one spark that ignites the blaze…that one piece of the puzzle that snaps the rest into place, or makes the bigger picture all of a sudden become clear. Much like I felt about “Hen” in a way, I’d still argue that it’s somewhat of a strange choice to have made in putting this particular song out before the rest as a gateway into the album…but once again, I think it speaks volumes on behalf of the artist that Brian Kirchner genuinely is, and the high degrees of his ambitions. You don’t really put out a song like “Wake Up, Toru” out as a single to entice people into listening, so much as you would to make a statement – you follow me? Honestly, I’d probably argue that the repetition found in “Wake Up, Toru” works as much for it as it does potentially against it here…thematically, I get it – if we’re in the grip of the sandman along with Toru, then that all checks out…but without that context, Brian’s walking a finer line with this particular tune from around the thirty-second mark forward. It always depends on what the people hear the most though…if they’re concentrating on the melody found on the surface of the song and closest to us in the mix, chances are, they’ll love this track as much as the rest. If they’ve got it underneath the microscope like us reviewers and critics do, chances are they might feel it’s a bit more one-note than the rest of the material to be found on May by comparison. Full proof that there’s no pleasing everyone all of the time.
“Tea Room, Pacific Hotel” has a much more quaint & inviting sound to it…warm & friendly…I’d imagine people out there will have no qualms about this cut. It kind of has its own innocently jazzy vibe to it as well, which gives it a bit of unique separation from the rest of the set while still retaining the cohesion it needs to make sense with the rest of the songs on May. Don’t know that I’d put it up there with the best of the best, but it’s not at the bottom of my list here either – “Tea Room, Pacific Hotel” is somewhere in the middle, and hence, it makes perfect sense to find it right in the middle of the lineup overall as well I suppose. I do both like and appreciate that there’s real time being made for the fun in the musicianship on this record – if anything, that’s where I found “Tea Room, Pacific Hotel” to be at its most impressive – it genuinely sounds like it’d be fun to play with all its stops & starts along the way, and in my world, that counts for something. Brian’s done an exceptional job of telling our ears how much he wants to be here doing what he’s doing & entertaining us, as opposed to simply going through the motions and making another record or song like so many artists out there tend to get caught doing.
Conversely though, I felt like “Malta” immediately starts out with a sound that not only connects, but has that weight to it that tells your ears you’re in for a special moment of some kind. Unpretentiously, “Malta” is another one of the cuts on May that really doesn’t fight too hard for your attention, but will receive it in-full all the same. At 2:26, it’s also another moment in time that passes by almost too quickly – but hey…as we always say around these pages of ours, that’s what your repeat button is for – if you want MORE of it, and you quite likely WILL – then you have all of the advantages of modern technology right in front of you in order to make that happen – help yourself. It’s a charming track and very subtle – “Malta” is a truly self-contained song on this record that seems to play almost like it has no concept of it being on an album loaded with other quality cuts…it nonchalantly wins you over through humble sound.
The real question became, at more than twice the length of ANY other song on the entire record – how was Brian going to use the extra time on “Bat” – a song that’s nearly seven minutes long. I’ll put it to you this way folks…I’m really not opposed to any of these tunes on May, and I feel like I could sit and listen to Kirchner play for hours on end and I’d never get bored…but I don’t know that “Bat” ends up really making any huge moves that would technically justify the length it has any more than doubling the length of any of the other tracks around it would have, know what I mean? You get more of what you’re loving here in the same sense that there’s a reason most deals for a pizza are 2-for-1 – more is quite often attractive, and a great thing on the consumer’s end. You could argue that the short breakdown that occurs in the fifth minute is different than what you’ve found in most songs on May…but as to whether or not it justifies the rest to get to that point…well…that’s probably a different story. I’m just callin’ it like I hear it, as I always do – like I said, personally, I’ll take more of Brian’s music any way that I can get it…I’m just not really hearing anything so radically unique to “Bat” that I found we couldn’t get out of the rest of the set at the shorter length of each tune is all. For myself personally, I think it was the first thirty seconds of this track that ended up having the most uniqueness to listen to – and that’s kind of really before Kirchner even starts playing; I’m not sure that’s the real desired effect this time around. “Bat” is still as enjoyable as any other track on May technically IS, whether for the musicianship of Brian or the melody & sound of the song itself…I suppose I’m just a bit more confused or perplexed as to why this one track accounts for one fifth of the album’s total length by comparison to the rest of the set-list.
Like…as if he intended to prove my point instantly…I can’t imagine there’s a single one of us that wouldn’t have wanted “Dans Bleu” to last several more minutes than it does. 6:51 for “Bat?” How about some JUSTICE for “Dans Bleu” then? Only 2:27? Brian! I mean…I don’t wanna call this guy a MONSTER…he seems like he must be a very nice guy to have put out a record like May…but every time this track cycled through once again, all I could think of was the fact that it’s about a third as long as the song before it, and how I’d have taken a full album’s worth of this one exquisite tune to be truthful with ya. There are many amazing moments to be found throughout the set-list of May, but “Dans Bleu” has got to be one of the most universal and easy for us all to love – it’s authentically gorgeous, full stop. I think there are some tunes on the album that could potentially give this one a good run for its money – but I think I also feel like, deep down, we’d all have to admit that “Dans Bleu” would make the top three on anyone’s list of favorites from May. So again, not to harp on this point too much…but that’s what makes the length of a track like “Bat” even more confusing…that’s a GOOD tune, and “Dans Bleu” is an undeniably GREAT one…and…and well…we can ALL hear that, right? I swear…as much as I enjoy this entire album, if you replaced every single song with another copy of “Dans Bleu” I promise ya, I wouldn’t have complained. This is enchanting, mesmerizing, and absolutely outright captivating – fascinating in the sense that, you feel like this song can practically stop time around you and preserve the beauty of the moment for all time. I’m confident each and every one of you listening will absolutely love this song.
Brian goes on to an even bigger win overall, with “The Mark” coming next, creating one of the most engaging double-shots to be found on his brand-new album for sure. Definitely another one of my own personal favorites without question, Kirchner does an exceptional job of bringing depth to this track through the contrast of the low-end & high combined together – and I honestly couldn’t get enough of this one either. This is where he reminds me more specifically of the piano-based tracks I personally love so much on Aphex Twin’s Drukqs album…the kind of songs that almost sneak up on you in the sense that, when you hear them for the first time, you realize you really like them right away, but truly have no clue as to how profound and addictive the experience of listening to them becomes overall. That’s where the repetition comes into play…that’s where you realize after you’ve spent an hour entirely immersed within the immaculate combination of contemplative beauty to be found, that you’ve been lost in a song that’ll remain a part of the soundtrack to your LIFE for as long as you choose to keep on livin’ it. And I swear to ya dear readers, dear friends…whenever I find songs like “Dans Bleu” and “The Mark,” the discovery extends my lifespan even more…because I WANT to be around to listen to songs like these for as long as my ears are capable of hearing’em and THEN some, you feel me? Brian should be extraordinarily pleased with & proud of these two moments in time…they’re unforgettable, truly. “The Mark” was one of the advance singles from the set to come out prior to the album as far as I can tell, and one of the most easily justifiable in that regard – this is audible beauty we can all identify.
“Back In The Well” is clearly intended as a rewind that indicates the story has somewhat come full-circle – and so it plays like that. It’s thirty-four seconds of sound you won’t object to, and it passes by quickly. Would I have taken that thirty-four seconds and added more time onto “Dans Bleu” instead? Brian – my man…you know the answer to that by now…but conceptually, I understand “Back In The Well” likely has its role in the themes driving the inspiration and storyline of the book that led you to create this record.
Finishing on a complete triumph – there’s a massive chance that “Song For May Kasahara” might even be my personal favorite of the bunch as well, mind you, Brian’s gone on an exceptional run throughout his final three full-length tunes on this album, “Back In The Well” not included as it’s somewhat of an intro-type tune. Between “Dans Bleu,” “The Mark,” and “Song For May Kasahara,” I’d truly have a tough time choosing if I’m being entirely real with ya…these are outright gems, and reveal a mastery of emotion in music that most artists will be lucky to ever reach in their own material. Like I’ve been tellin’ ya from the get-go here – Brian’s got a gift…an insightful talent that connects his soul to the music he’s making, and that’s not at all lost on us as we listen to May. “Song For May Kasahara” is as beautiful and compelling as music can potentially ever be…another moment in time where Kirchner has the rest of the world fading out around you, like this song is the only thing that currently exists and commands your attention in-full…earning it with ease, as opposed to demanding it by force. While my original points on concept records remains true in how no one out there is going to quite know the storyline as well as Brian does in terms of how each song fits into it and relates to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – there’s no doubt whatsoever that you feel like you’ve really made a journey along with him by the time you reach the end of May, and that these songs he’s written, certainly tell a story of their own in the process. It’s a record filled from start to finish with gorgeous material, and speaks volumes on behalf of instrumental music & the stunning power it has to captivate our hearts and minds without the use of a solitary word.
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