Spectrum Culture reviews Chris Forsyth’s ‘Kenzo Deluxe’
Chris Forsyth: Kenzo Deluxe
RODGER COLEMAN JULY 15, 2012 0
Guitarist Chris Forsyth has been around since the late ‘90s, touring extensively with a variety of collaborators ranging from his deconstructed rock band, Peeesseye to out-jazz improvisers like Tetuzi Akiyama and Nate Wooley. A prolific recording artist, he has also released a dozen or so recordings on a number of small independent labels (as well as his own micro-label, Evolving Ear) garnering acclaim in such prestigious underground journals as The Wire. All this activity has finally resulted in some well-deserved mainstream recognition, including a Pew Fellowship award in 2011 and a two-record deal with Northern Spy. The first album to be released isKenzo Deluxe, named after the funky Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia where Forsyth has lived since 2009. An intimate set of solo electric guitar pieces, this record should further cement his reputation as a postmodern master of the instrument.
Forsyth describes his music as “Cosmic Americana,” a seamless fusion of country, folk, blues, jazz combined with psychedelic and avant-garde elements, similar in some ways to John Fahey’s more experimental work. But make no mistake: Forsyth is no primitivist. Avoiding overt sentimentality or misplaced nostalgia, he gleefully embraces modern technology and draws upon an expansive range of stylistic approaches in creating his multifaceted music. Armed with just a guitar and an arsenal of stomp-boxes (including digital delays, an envelope filter and a looping pedal), Forsyth chose to record Kenzo Deluxe alone in a room, with no editing or overdubbing—a brave move, standing naked before a microphone. But rather than succumbing to empty displays of instrumental virtuosity or a facile reliance on electronic effects, Forsyth has crafted four thoughtful, highly personal meditations on the electric guitar’s limitless potentialities.
The opening track, “The First 10 Minutes of Cocksucker Blues” alludes to Robert Frank’s notoriously decadent (and never released) documentary of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 North American tour and while the chirping wah-wah and ragged slide playing evokes Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir more than Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, the piece demonstrates Forsyth’s general strategy: a deceptively simple harmonic framework is established, culminating in a looping vamp over which Forsyth improvises with bluesy flourishes. Despite the apparent formula, Forsyth resists monotony and imbues each piece with a uniquely coherent structure. Moreover, he never lets the technology overwhelm the proceedings, showing remarkable self-restraint and extraordinary control over his musical resources. Ponderous tempos and vast, open silences predominate as on “Boston Street Lullaby No.1,” a melancholic shuffle, or “Downs and Ups,” with its layers of gentle fingerpicking with mellifluous single-note melodies. “Boston Street Lullaby No.2,” on the other hand, is all atmospherics and texture: ominous chords kick up billowing clouds of noise and distortion, which loom on the horizon like an impending storm. Meanwhile, “East Kensington Run Down” rocks out for 11-plus minutes, a hypnotic series of droning, chiming riffs and intricate interlocking passagework. There is tremendous variety beneath the seemingly placid surface of the music—and it’s over before you know it.
Kenzo Deluxe is a subtle record, quiet and contemplative rather than brashly impressive and, as such, it makes for a perfect late-night chill-out album—but this is not some sort of bland sonic wallpaper. Forsyth draws from the deep well of American music to develop his singular guitar style and Kenzo Deluxe rewards active, repeated listening. A band-oriented follow-up is due in the fall and will no doubt be worth hearing as well.
Release Date:July 10, 2012
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