Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Album Review: Kurt Travis - Wha Happen?

Rating: A-
Kurt Travis has been on a bumpy ride the past few years. Getting scooped up as the replacement for Jonny Craig in Dance Gavin Dance for two albums, Travis was dropped as suddenly as he was hired. The pathetic drama that Travis was not even allowed to participate in aside, Travis found himself without a job, eventually to become the vocalist for another Sacramento band, A Lot Like Birds. However, in the void of time between acts, Travis recorded various solo tracks, many of which made their way onto his now defunct bandcamp. After the release of his debut with A Lot Like Birds, Travis took it upon himself to put together some of these songs as well as a few unreleased tracks for an EP titled Wha Happen? The EP is released through Doghouse Records on January 24th and is quite an experience.

Wha Happen? is a diverse release, a set of songs of differing styles and influences. However, it is surprisingly easy to generalize about the EP. The opener is aptly named ‘25 New Ways to Regress,’ a title that is very reflective of Travis’ attitude throughout the effort. He is self-serving in his depression and regret, but he maintains a bit of humor and optimism in his approach. Travis’ vocal delivery is emotional and impactful, his talent undeniable. However, he occasionally botches notes that are clearly within his range. They are also present in the musicianship and the questionable production. These intentional mistakes become a central characteristic of the release. However, they are not done in a hipster fashion, they are honest and are of great benefit to the release.

Each song conjures up vivid images in my mind. ’25 New Ways to Regress’ is a picture of a small suburban house in California with a tilted pink flamingo in the yard during a late summer afternoon. ‘Wha Happen?’ is a picture of a young man sitting alone on an empty beach with a cool breeze and autumn in the air. ‘How Are Things’ is a picture of a boy sitting in a canoe in a lake in Maine on a bright summer afternoon. ‘Let’s Remember Time’ is a picture of Travis and a few of his strange friends at a run-down local bowling alley. ‘My Favorite Thing’ is some ridiculous trip on a drug that is impossible to describe. ‘Time to Make a Plan, Not Getting Younger’ is a drive through a wooded area on a small winding road in the middle of the night during the winter. The repetitive themes found in these images summarizes the emotions Travis poured into these songs with great clarity.

Though a bit unprofessional at times, Wha Happen? has incredible depth, offering a glimpse into the mind of an incredibly talented musician lost at sea in treacherous waters. For some reason, his struggle really clicks with me. I hope Kurt doesn’t end his solo efforts here, as I think he has much more to share with us.

Track List:

1) 25 New Ways to Regress
2) Wha Happen?
3) How Are Things
4) Let's Remember Time
5) My Favorite Thing
6) Time to Make a Plan, Not Getting Younger

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