Song of the day: Ken Simpson – "He’s Not Looking"

March 2, 2013

I received a friendly email from an American musician by the name of Ken Simpson (Hi, Ken!). Ken told me about his new EP, You’re No Fun Anymore, and asked if I’d have a listen.

I had a listen, enjoyed it (sort of), and got carried away with my comments.

Brace yourself…

Ken Simpson – You’re No Fun Anymore (2013)

1. “The Poisoner’s Song


I can’t really comment positively on this song, because it contains almost all the things about late-Beatles-worship that irritate me:

a) Slow, simple drum beat
I’d be happy not to hear another drummer play in the patented “Relaxed Ringo” style.

b) The “Mellotron” sound
Just because The Beatles used the “flute” preset on their Mellotron for “Strawberry Fields Forever” doesn’t mean other musicians have to as well. The Mellotron had a lot more settings than simply “flute”.

c) A cello
I love the sound of the cello (it’s my favourite orchestral instrument), but hearing it in a slow, late-Beatles-ish song makes me sigh – not in a “Isn’t that lovely” way, but in a “Can’t we use a different instrument for a change?” way.

c) Singer doing an impression of John Lennon
Apart from the general “I’ll sound like John Lennon” vibe that pervades the vocal track on this song, I thought the Johnny-ising* went a bit too far when Ken sang the word “touch” at 0:50. He got all Liverpudlian and pronounced it “tooch” (as if it rhymed like “Look at the book I took”).

(*Or “Johnny I Sing”.)

Trivia: When Ken sang the phrase “This looks like lemonade” (0:51-0:54), I wondered if he’d missed an opportunity by not singing “Lennon-ade”.

I’m guessing this song is a good one, but my views of it are clouded by my dislike of hearing yet another song infused** with slow, late-Beatles sounds and playing.

(**I’d originally typed “infected” but thought that’s just being mean.)

2. “He’s Not Looking

Apart from the slide guitar in the introduction reminding me of (who else?) George Harrison, the melody in the verse (0:17-0:32) reminded me of something as well. I’m sure I’ve heard that tune somewhere before, but I can’t place it (at the moment). Hang on…

Got it:

Ken Simpson – “He’s Not Looking” (2013) (excerpt)

Link

Fountains Of Wayne – “All Kinds Of Time (2003) (excerpt)

Link

Actually, the chorus reminded me of something too, but I don’t know what. Grrr.

Bad News: The harmony singing from 1:19-1:21 is out of tune.
Good News: It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the song.

By the way, I liked this song much more than the first one (“The Poisoner’s Song”).

3. “When You Talk To Me

Moody. I like the low-key brass (which created the “moody”), but I didn’t like the syncopated drumming – especially from 0:43-0:58. I thought the syncopated tom-toms were a bit better (they weren’t as noticeable), but overall I thought the jumpy drumming didn’t suit the mood of the song.

I like the brass interlude from 1:59-2:26. Very nice.

Incidentally, Ken’s double-tracked voice when he sings the high notes in this song (e.g., “How can you…” from 2:50-2:52) sounds like Gerry Rafferty.

4. “Feeling So Much Better

This one started off reminding me of Gerry Rafferty as well. (See previous track.)

I can’t think of much to say about this one, because it’s pleasant and doesn’t do anything particularly noticeable by way of something like “Wow! What an unusual chord progression!”, or “Wow! It’s incredible how Ken’s spoken-word Emily Dickinson quotation fits perfectly in the middle eight!”, or “Wow! Who would have thought a shamisen solo could work in a pop song!” etc.

It’s pleasant.

And it has a mighty fine guitar solo (1:56-2:16). And a nice key change from 2:32 onwards.

5. “I Guess I Never Told You

Mmm: jazzy. And very smoooooooooth. Unfortunately, this track in particular highlighted Ken’s vocal limitations.

Disclaimer: Because I’m a dreadful singer, I always feel distinctly uncomfortable talking about somebody else’s singing if I think it’s not very good. I think that I have no right to even dare mention it. (As in: “Bad singing, Peter? Ha! You can talk!”)

But, like “When You Talk To Me”, this track also had a great brass interlude from 1:18-1:52. I like brass interludes.

Suggestion for the song’s arranger: During the brass interlude, instead of the cello sawing its way through that section how about a string trio? It’d sound a lot smoother.

Despite my misgivings about some aspects of this song, I liked it. This and track 2 (“He’s Not Looking”) are probably my two favourite songs on the EP.

6. “Perfect Day

The return of the Mellotron “flute” preset. But I’m OK with that because it’s not too noticeable.

And the return of Ken’s voice reminding me of Gerry Rafferty.

By the way, I think Ken likes starting his songs quietly for about half a minute before the rest of the band kicks in, because this this is the fourth song on the EP to do that.

Let’s see…

Track 1: “Poisoner’s Song” (41 seconds before the band comes in)
Track 2: “He’s Not Looking” (31 seconds)
Track 4: “Feeling So Much Better” (29 seconds)
Track 6: “Perfect Day” (43 seconds)

Yep. About 30 seconds.

But back to the song I’m listening to:

When “Perfect Day” gets a-goin’, I like the fuzz whatever-it-is in the left channel. (I think it’s a keyboard. Maybe.) And I enjoyed the backwards guitar panning around the soundstage, although it did remind me too much of, er, you know…

***

OK. That’s it. I suppose that’s what some people might call a review. (Not me.)

Oh. I just remembered.

It would be dreadfully impolite of me not to mention that You’re No Fun Anymore was produced by David Mead. And this was David Mead’s first production job.

So if you’re a David Mead fan, you can confidently go near this EP knowing that David Mead sprinkled a bit of his pixie dust on it.

(Disclaimer: David Mead may not be a pixie.)

***

Update: The unhelpful comment about David Mead’s pixiness was to be the end of the post, but Ken left a comment (see below) saying that his EP is available free o’ charge. You can grab it here:

If I may be permitted to speak on behalf of Ken:

Enjoy!

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