Friday, October 11, 2013

Kickdrums Out Loud About Atonement

Alex Fitts
Led by singer/songwriter/producer Alex Fitts, Brooklyn-based The Kickdrums continue to push creative boundaries with Thinking Out Loud. The new album expands upon the work that he and fellow producer Matt Penttila started, with Penttila taking a leave of absence several months ago.

The split has since opened up new opportunities for Fitts as a solo producer. He set The Kickdrums on a new direction, one that drifts even further away from genre conformity. And while the Cleveland native is quick to admit that this doesn't make things easy, he also isn't one to fear the road less traveled.

Thinking Out Loud catches a genre drift.

Not everyone will like the album for this reason. It skips around indie rock, dream pop, trip hop, and other genres. And sometimes Fitts samples what he picked up from one genre while working out a song set in another.

It all seems light years away from his days as a producer for Kid Cudi, 50 Cent, and Kanye West. While Fitts still showcases his knack for blending genres, he does so in a way that creates his own space. The title track does a brilliant job demonstrating it.

Thinking Out Loud, which was the first track put out in support of the album, opens with an airy instrumental with synth and strings before moving into percussion-led electronica but with crisp indie rock vocals. The lyrics are compelling, questioning life, faith, and everything.

The track is jubilant and harrowing, effortlessly alternating back and forth between the two. It's not the only track on the album to do it. But it does showcase Fitts's vision for composing music, writing lyrics, and playing an impossibly large sampling of instruments.

One thing that hasn't changed is how he lays down his music. He usually picks out a bass line and layers melodic key or guitar elements over it. But then he goes back and adjusts or changes the bass again. The approach gives him more freedom to play around while trying to hear what that finished product might sound like in his head. It's how, he says, that he has been reborn as an artist.

The balance of Thinking Out Loud is spun out nicely. 

Opening with Atonement, Thinking Out Loud eases into a beat-driven indie pop sound before Brave Raider shifts to an electronica foundation but with the same laid back, contemplative vocals. It ends with a chop, but is otherwise an easy favorite. Fake Guns is strong and more upbeat, but it doesn't really start soaring until after the first 30 seconds or so. It's as if Fitts needed the chorus to connect.

Can't Hide Love isn't my favorite. There is so much ebb to the bass beat that it detracts from anything else going on in the song. Fool Killer retains the pronounced beat, but Fitts does a better job getting over and above the music with his layered melodies. I Know opens with an experimental bop that will lose some people before they ever get to the meat of the song. Give it time.

Moving Sidewalks is growing on me as a genre crosser. The only down side is that it was easier to like some segments of the song than others. It will be interesting to see if people will give it a chance.

Skipping over the title track, the album ends with Echoes and Run Through It All. The atmospheric qualities of Echoes is a winner. Run Through It All has solid vocals but the lyrics aren't exciting.

Thinking Out Loud By The Kickdrums Bangs 5.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Some of those details might sound hypercritical, but they really aren't meant to be. As a whole album, Thinking Out Loud really highlights the depth of Fitts's talent as he assumes the reins of his band. It's clear that he hit a high water mark on what he set out to do, which means it's up to you to like it. Start with the sons Thinking Out Loud and Atonement and go from there.

You can find Thinking Out Loud by The Kickdrums on Amazon. The album can also be downloaded from iTunes. The Kickdrums are lining up shows to tour, including Fitts's hometown. Chris Wall and Jeff DiLorenzo will be joining him for live performances.
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