If I had possessed the heart and energy to draw up a list of top tracks from 2012 after the soul-pain that the top albums list created, Old English’s lead single “We’ve Been Here Before” would have been an easy choice for the top ten. Permanently lodged in my brain in a pleasing way, “We’ve Been Here Before” delivers a breathy, mature electronic sound in a hook-laden package that feels ironically familiar, yet unique all the same.
It is no wonder that the “dream rock country club” of a band’s first release, Prose & Kahns, is a release I anticipated highly for 2013. Luckily, the late summer setting sun vibe of the album is casting its rays, vastly improving a dreary season. All the same, the melancholy undercurrents of the Matt Henderson-helmed project befit the winter winds slipping into the bones.
Prose & Kahns is an introspective album, one rich with metaphor and meaning. The nature of love — and its disintegration — plays out thematically across the tracks, with each song revealing another layer, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It’s aural origami: each fold or crease upon Henderson’s heart builds upon the complexity of the last. The result is an album that transcends the personal experience of heartache to a contemplation of its broader forms of failed dreams (“Lotteries and Tents”) and the naïveté of young lovers oblivious to the inherent risk in a lover’s dreamscape (“Pop Shop”).
The juxtaposition of ethereal, lofty electronic pop and bittersweet reflections of love is framed by a pairing of instrumental tracks: while “Runner-Up” soars with the hopeful heart of someone so very close to the finish line as to almost touch it before it flutters to the earth, closer “My Dear Neighbours” is the sinking descent of someone submerging beneath the ocean’s surface, muffled memories whispering beyond the white noise, only to re-emerge, perhaps to start anew in spite of oneself.
The album is moving yet hardly morose: within darkness, there is light. Henderson’s collective of players have built a world that is at turns surprisingly airy and bright. One need only look to “We’ve Been Here Before” or the almost celebratory tones of “We Can Never Have It All” to realize that the acceptance of reality can be as freeing as it is undeniable. Perhaps it is the unexpected lift within these tracks that makes them such standouts for me.
Even in its lows, there is a feeling of being understood within the poetic lyrics that enthralls. Henderson has a true gift for minimalistic phrase that suckershots the gut with poignant truth. Lines like, “This can’t be what you meant/for our knees to bruise but barely leave a dent,” or, “Oh, these days it’s hard to know/a temporary spine from customary home,” are so carefully crafted that the album feels like a novella.
Perhaps that (and Henderson’s love of puns) explains the album’s name. Perhaps the name nods to that Mortal Kombat character capable of consuming one’s soul. Perhaps it is both. It doesn’t really matter. Contrary to the song, you can have it all: passion, lyrics that linger in mind and cunning compositions. One need only embrace a world of Prose & Kahns.
Highlights: “Anchors”; “We’ve Been Here Before”; “Older Things”; “We Can Never Have It All”
Final Grade: A
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