Kid On The Roof – The Travel Guide – EP Review
Ayyyyyy…there we go…anyone out there that references The Album Leaf as an influence on their music or LIFE, is certainly someone I’d readily consider to be an ally in this industry for sure. There are other highly respectable names within the list featured in Kid On The Roof’s bio too…perhaps arguably even more applicable or comparable to what we hear on The Travel Guide EP as well ultimately…but hey now – there’s like, five of us on the planet that understand what an incredible contribution The Album Leaf has made to this world of music we share, so that deserves the extra attention & a genuine shout-out. Musically, I can hear it…vocally…there’s a comparison that CAN be made, and I will go on to make it at some point in this review…but we’ll get to that a bit later on down the road. For now, it’s safe to say that simply reading that piece of information set Kid On The Roof up nicely for success in these speakers of mine. I’m gonna have to be as objective as I always am in what I write…but he starts on solid ground.
The real truth of the matter here, is written right there in the very first line of his bio, presumably penned by the man himself – it reads: “Kid On The Roof (sometimes stylized as KOTR) is a writer, and artist keen on making a difference in this world.” In the context of a bio, the order of things is crucially important – and as somewhat of a wordsmith myself, information & how it’s presented to us all, leaps off the pages from me when I’m listening to music. Chances are, that’s the result of being born in the liner-notes era, where every detail was scrutinized heavily as I listened – it’s how I got any education I currently have – it certainly didn’t come from the institutional side of the system, that I can tell ya.
Anyhow. You’ll notice it says ‘writer’ first, and ‘artist’ second – and there’s a reason as to why that is. All-in-all, it’s a reflection of both the truth, and where KOTR currently understands where his skillset is serving him best – as a writer, his ideas have no problem standing out whatsoever, and for all the right reasons…as an artist, he’s got plenty of room to evolve and grow…and I suspect based on the order of which he’s listed his own credits, nobody out there in this world knows this specifically better than him. Before anyone hits the panic button…you can take anything I’ve got to say with a grain of salt or two – Kid On The Roof started releasing music last year, and as I remind y’all all the time, the last thing I’d ever want would be to hear an artist or band at the start of their career with nowhere else to go but down. It’s natural for there to be things we can improve on…and hopefully, that’s what we’re all seeking out.
Case in-point…“Youthful Bliss” starts out there record, and instantly reveals a whole bunch of my favorite ideas in this set-list, right off the drop – these hooks, are absolutely strong…nearly bulletproof by design quite honestly. The music is immaculate…sparkling, shining, entertaining, and authentically beautiful when it comes right down to it…very much in the vein of The Album Leaf or something you’d expect to find on one of his records – so heck yeah, I’m all in favor of that. Vocally, the main issue you’ll find becomes not that KOTR can’t sing – the problem is the dude CAN sing…he’s just still doing his level best to get to that comfortable place where the right parts come out at the right time is all…and that takes a whole lot of experience to achieve. You’ll hear in the highlights of “Youthful Bliss” that the dude’s completely got the ability…moments like when he sings “we’d watch the sun shine,” around the 2:45 mark, or the “I’d never fade away” line the second time it comes out, nearly ten seconds later – those moments add extra power to his energy…and it’s because he’s pushing his vocals in those spots, that he reaches the right level of tone he’s seeking out. You’ll hear no disputes from me on the fact that he’s written challenging parts for himself to sing…”Youthful Bliss” has tons of challenging parts, and given that this is the first record I’ve personally heard from him, it’s also hard to know what kind of singer that KOTR is aiming to be. My gut tells me that he doesn’t really want to be the Band Of Horses dude…and definitely doesn’t want to have the flatline roughness you’d find in something like Interpol either…and right now, he’s kind of somewhere in the middle of that, searching for his own spot. He runs into a bit of trouble with dissonant tones in the layers of vocals when the backing meets the lead, but in general, he’s just a touch wide of the mark with the tone he’s looking for in the melody he’s written into “Youthful Bliss.” How do I know? It’s as simple as going back to the comparison I’ve already given ya – I mentioned the “I’d never fade away” line…the second iteration, precisely. That’s the one that works – and the one beforehand, doesn’t, straight-up. The issue becomes the fact that you know Kid would hear it too…he’s a fan of such extraordinary artists & groundbreaking melody-makers that it’s impossible to conceive of a situation where he’s not hearing exactly what I’m hearing. So the question becomes, who in the heck is poking this guy with such a sharp stick? Who is it out there that’s telling him that The Travel Guide EP had to get recorded, and completely by yesterday, or else? Because short of that being a real thing…he’s theoretically got all the time in the world to take as much time as he likes to get it all as right as he can. Because I maintain…the highlights you’ll hear on “Youthful Bliss” vocally, immediately inform your ears that, YES, this dude CAN sing…but it’s the overall results that tell ya he’s still testing the waters and finding his way. It’s all about believing it…the more he believes he CAN sing, the better the results are gonna become when he’s actually doing it…but take your time there homie…you have as much as you want as an independent music artist I’d assume, and these ideas you’ve got, they’re worth it. Circling back to my original point – I have about a million problems with more than half of what The Album Leaf creates when he chooses to sing on his songs as opposed to keeping them instrumental – so there’s that to consider. I bet HIS bio probably reads in an order like, artist/musician…singer…feel me? Anyhow…all this loosely applies to the majority of this lineup of tunes on The Travel Guide EP – but rest assured, the potential is completely there where it should be…the ideas in the hooks of the chorus of “Youthful Bliss” for example, are freakin’ awesome…all I’m doing is advocating on KOTR to get the most he can out of them is all. If that gets me hated for keepin’ it real, you regular readers already know that I’m willing to take that risk, every time; I’m here to serve the scene as best I can, for better, or for worse.
Don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong…juxtaposition…contrast…these can be extremely awesome elements in making music – but when they come at the cost of the potential sweetness that could exist within a melody, that’s when things become trickier. Like…again, musically, there’s not a single solitary second of a track like “Summer Nights” that I’d ever want to remotely change – that’s audible perfection, and it sets up the design of the melody extremely well. All I can do from this side of the screen is hold KOTR accountable to what I can hear he’s capable of…there are too many moments on the opening track that prove he CAN hit the melody when he’s focused on it for me to be able to give him a pass on when he’s wide of the mark…and he is indeed, wide of the mark on every inch of this second cut when it comes to the vocals. I’m not entirely sure that it’s ALL on him, or if it’s the effect of the layers of lead & background clashing & jarring the melody he’s looking for…that part, I’m less sure of – but what I can tell ya my brother, is that we can all hear the results…even you my good man. I listen to a track like “Summer Nights” and I KNOW that at this very moment in time, if Kid was to start singing this right now, he’d get more out of it with the advantages of time & experience already – am I right? I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it to be true. I have a hard time with this one though, I’ll admit – there is so much about the ideas presented in the songwriting that I think could be absolutely amazing – and it’s stuff that could get resolved in a remix perhaps one day…maybe…hopefully. All I know is that quality ideas like these are hard to come by…and if that means hitting up the studio to get back in the booth & resolve some of these RESOLVABLE issues…then my friend…it is certainly entirely worth doing. Because I’m tellin’ ya KOTR…right now, you’re right there on the fringe of what the average everyday listener’s ears is going to be willing to accept…and deep down, I’ve already heard you’re capable of much more than putting people on the fence in the court of public opinion. Studio red-light comes on, it’s time to record, the rest of the world fades away, let it rip like no one is listening…and you’ve got this.
Each time I switched up the track and started to head into a new one, I got all kinds of hopeful all over again…because when it comes to the music-part of what Kid On The Roof is creating, the dude is 100% flawless. Where the real issue comes into play, is that I’d be willing to bet he’d rather write ‘artist’ before ‘writer’ in his bio…but like I said, he knows that aspect of what he’s doing isn’t quite up to the same standard…yet. Doesn’t mean he can’t get there, but right now, his pen is stronger than his voice. The desire and passion is certainly there…that I can hear – I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt that KOTR WANTS to do this music-thang – he WANTS to be a singer – he WANTS to entertain you, sincerely. And if that’s the case, he’ll put in the work, round out the sharp corners, and he’ll get there, simple as that – no one expects him to step straight outta the gate and begin crackin’ home-runs…that takes time. At the outset of a career, all I ever wanna hear is that the ideas & potential are there…a reason to keep on going & continue essentially…the rest all falls into place as time goes on. The rapped out part of “Falling Stars” works pretty well for him…it’s very much written in a straight-ahead design in that moment and it’s the rest of the song that I WANT to support just as much, but that’s where the melody needs work to reach that tone he’s looking for again…the one that complements & works with the vibe in his music. He makes a lot of insightful points poetically as he muses the fate of the planet on “Falling Stars” and once again, I feel like this dude is capable of quite a lot as a writer – and for a moment there, right around the 1:20 mark, he’s pretty much right on the money…the majority of that whole run from there, until just before the final line prior to the second minute, all works fairly well in his favor and gets some good stuff outta the man on the mic. Do I think he’s got more in the tank, still, even when he’s on a good run? Yes! Yes I do! And of course, I gotta encourage him to reach for what he’s capable of in that regard…he’s writing quality material…and it shouldn’t end up on the shelf because the melody is suffering a bit more than it should be. It takes a bit of harsh objectivity…not from me, but from himself – like I’ve been tellin’ ya – KOTR knows exactly what works on a melodic level and what doesn’t…from here on in, it’s all about being real with himself as to where that’s coming out right, and where he can add a higher degree of accessibility to the music through the vocals he’s laying down. As much hard work as the music thing can be, when the material is there, it’s worth it…sometimes we gotta stand back, listen, and be real about it…and if that means we gotta jump back in the booth and start from scratch all over again, unfortunately, so be it. Musically, I think Kid has everything he needs…I get the want for words & the desire to sing…like I said, I’m a huge fan of The Album Leaf too…so I’ve been through it. The reality is, every one of my FAVORITE tunes from that guy, is completely instrumental. I feel very much the same about it…the guy just needs to take more time with his vocals when he adds them in, IF he’s gonna add them in…but musically, The Album Leaf is absolutely aces. If I’m being 100% real with ya – I’ve already heard smarter songwriting in what KOTR is creating when it comes to the design of the vocals and how they’re supposed to work…but melody-wise, there is evolution required.
Spoken-word/Rap-wise…KOTR seems to have no real issues at all. The final track “Hera, On October 1st” has both singing and some elements of Spoken-word/Rap in it…so…yeah…I mean…I’ve made it pretty clear on what I think so far about the singing, and I’m sure he gets that what I’ve had to say applies here too. Or he doesn’t, and the problem becomes much more of an issue – I’ve run into that before too. I suspect KOTR knows exactly what I’ve been ranting about though…and ultimately, he knows just as well as I do that it’s possible to fix. Like I said from the get-go…if there’s no one standing around pokin’ him in the ribs with a sharp stick…no producers tellin’ him they gotta move a million units of this record by last Tuesday…then all it takes is objectivity, patience, and time – because the skills & talent, he actually has. Obviously you have to acknowledge in listening to a track like “Hera, On October 1st,” or this EP as a whole, that making ART is also part of the priority here too…and yes, you get a bit more license when it comes to that in terms of what listening ears will accept…all I’ve been trying to say is that Kid doesn’t need to make us make that choice all the time, when he’s had so many moments along the way where he’s proven he CAN sing, and could easily smooth things out. He’s rockin’ his bars around the 1:45-mark with a method that’s tried, tested, and true…not necessarily as unique as the rest of what he creates, but effective – that’s probably the best moment for his vocals in terms of what’s straightforwardly accessible…people will vibe on that without hesitation. Musically…good LORD this last track is pure genius! Which brings me to my final point. Whether you’re Kid On The Roof or The Album Leaf, the same rule applies…do what serves the song the best…that’s what’s gonna lead you to victory. Think of it this way – if you’re not adding something effectively, chances are, you’re subtracting from the rest – make sense? As in…if you’re not completely confident – like, 100% SURE that adding in vocals is furthering the song and its potential reach…I’d probably be inclined to scrap them altogether, and let the track rock as an instrumental, or try to come up with something that does work without question. Because I’m tellin’ ya…underneath what’s happening on the mic, on every single one of these songs on The Travel Guide EP…is authentic audible genius that no one could even remotely dispute or complain about. We all need trial & error to get to where we wanna go though…and if we’re ever going to be the artists we want to become, we gotta survive someone out there giving us the hard truth sometimes, if only for the reason that friends & family will never have the courage required to fill that role. I’m THAT dude…always have been, always will be. So don’t get me wrong – I can hear the potential, I can hear the material, music, and ideas are all there…and I’m fully aware that the rest will sort itself out over time as Kid On The Roof continues on from here, which he most certainly should. Dude’s got a lot to offer the music scene with the cleverness he’s capable of…and I wholeheartedly believe he’ll get to where he wants to go eventually. It just takes a bit of ruthlessness on his part in terms of what he’s going to demand of himself on the mic, and settling for nothing less than the very best of what he can bring to any given song…again, it’s the difference between that first “I’d never fade away” line in the first song on the EP, and the second one that comes right afterwards…he knows what works, and what doesn’t – and he knows that ultimately, it’s up to him to choose. Because there probably ISN’T someone poking him in the ribs with that sharp stick…at least not yet; and if that’s truly the case, it’s all in KOTR’s control.
Find out more about Kid On The Roof at his Twitter page: https://twitter.com/justaKOTR
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