Ever wondered how the misanthropic, bedroom tape-recording Isaac Brock went from singing into answering machines and primitive four-track recorders into becoming the misanthropic, mega-rockstar Isaac Brock? This is a question that McKenna takes up on his bedroom pop experiment Weighted Pines. The spirit of the earliest incarnations of Modest Mouse haunt these collections of songs, which often sound like they are coming from a basement bedroom where a young man plays crouched over his amp, trying not wake his parents. Calling McKenna’s output anything but lo-fi up to this point would be a mistake. His output has ranged from the self-parodied, fidelity-as-incendiary-weapon with Mario Kart to his recent forays into cleaner fidelity with WYLD WYZRDS. Weighted Pines disregards low fidelity as an aesthetic choice and recalls the days when strictly analog was a strict necessity. Coming in at 14 tracks in almost as many minutes, Weighted Pines is a study in conservative pop songs. Not that there is anything necessarily conservative about the sound, McKenna nicely utilizes the four-tracks provided him, and fills in every possible nook and cranny with fuzzed out guitar lines, cavernous drum fills, and his barn-door creak of a voice. Brief squelches of noise punctuate “Trick or Treat” and “low” while the rest of the album rests on about one single hook per song. That is all McKenna really needs, and usually that hook is strong enough to demand repeated listens. This may be my favorite of all McKenna projects, that is until he re-emerges with some new creation spiraling out of the WYLD WYZRDZ universe. Until then I am latching onto this project as my go-to for nostalgia tinged, 90’s inspired bedroom pop.
Millennium Breeze (Magic Goat, 2009)
WYLD WYZRDZ, McKenna’s ambient drone project, has always displayed a keen sense of timing. Millennium Breeze is a 25 minute track with a traceable ark from gorgeous buzzing, chirping ambient guitar sounds into a tribal/free-jazz tribal dance party, and then back again. The first six minutes of Millennium Breeze begin with a sustained guitar tone that gradually stacks guitar drone on top of guitar drone with ample amounts of volume swells bringing the whole anthill of sound to the absolute peak in how much beauty the guitar is allowed to produce until the immediate (somewhat jarring) introduction of tribal beats and single note guitar lines break the tension and ushers in the sea change that Millennium Breeze goes through. Then, just wait for it, a gorgeous alto saxophone makes it’s triumphant palm-sunday march into the track. If you thought the saxophone killed music in the eighties, like some unnamed TOME contributor, and have held a grudge against its place within the realm of rock and roll, be prepared to have your ears cleansed in the celebratory revelry of Millennium Breeze. Sax-slayer Jake Birch displays some serious talent and virtuosity to sustain a twelve minute improvised solo while still riffing in and out of McKenna’s fresh beats. The beats stop suddenly, and Birch’s sax fades gently into the resurgance of McKenna’s gorgeous guitar tones. Top-notch stuff, and as always it can be downloaded for free at Magic Goat. Link below.