I keep waiting for the day when someone sends me a record that was made at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen that is terrible. I don’t understand how it’s possible that everything spun out of that studio is so brilliant. A lot of the credit has to go to producer Oliver Ignatius, who is behind the boards on almost all of the songs. A good deal also needs to go to the bands that have chosen to record there. Unknown throughout most of the world, they are quietly making some of the best music you can find. One of the first bands I heard about from the studio was The Great American Novel. You & I was a fun romp, if slightly immature. They’re back now with their second album, Kissing, which came out last week.
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Layne Montgomery has taken a great leap forward with this record. His songwriting has improved drastically, he seems to be more comfortable with his voice, and the album has a great cohesiveness that You & I was lacking. I had a good feeling as soon as I heard the lead single, “American Weekend.” In that one song Montgomery was able to capture all the angst and optimism that is scattered throughout Kissing.
I’ve listened to this album quite a few times now, and I think the song that really draws me in is “All The Sad Young Literary Men.” All the songs leading up to this one are solid,really solid, but the way the words mix in probably two dozen or so author’s names is pretty impressive. They also give away where the band’s name comes from. The first line had me hooked right away, “It all started when she told me that she loved Vonnegut that’s when I knew that she wasn’t emotionally with it.” The music throughout Kissing reminds me of a post-punk version of Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” and it’s never more evident than on this track.
If you follow what I write on this blog, then you’ll know that I named “Layne Montgomery Is Bad At Girls” as one of my top 25 songs of the year so far. It was a close call, though. Initially I had “Are You Sure You Don’t Wanna Hang Out?” listed in that spot. It’s by far the most aggressive track on Kissing, and it gets pretty crazy. The guitar is screaming and so is Montgomery as the anger keeps building. There’s a breakdown right in the middle of the song where pretty much everything is cut out except the guitar that’s stuttering like it’s about to bubble over with rage that is really great.
The intorduction to “Layne Montgomery Is Bad At Girls” might be my favorite segment of Kissing. Horns kick in right at the top, and Montgomery’s guitar part is extremely anthemic. One of my favorite lyrics, maybe of the year so far, is when he sings “I’m on a date. So fucking bored that I can’t wait to be alone again and text my best friend and lament about how sad my love life is.” I really feel like that line, intended or not, captures a lot of the problems young people (I believe he’s 20) have these days. Rather text someone than have a real conversation, would rather complain about how bad your life is than put in the work to make it better. I’m probably reading more than is really there, but I thought it was very well done.
I really enjoy this record. Sometimes when I’m done reviewing an album, it’s a long time before I can go back and listen to it as a fan and just take it in. With Kissing I feel like I was ready as soon as I had my thoughts about it in my head. With such a big leap in songmanship, I can’t wait until Montgomery starts working on album number three. And I hope that he can get the same band together, as they are all superstars on their own.
The Great American Novel-Kissing
Featuring Layne Montgomery: Vocals, Guitars-JR Atkins: Guitars, Sax, Vocals-Peter Kilpin: Bass, Vocals-Zac Coe: Drums-Devin Calderin: Keys, Piano, Trumpet, Vocals-Oliver Ignatius: Additional Piano, Vocals-Aidan Shepard: Vocals (on “All The Sad Young Literary Men”)-Todd Montgomery: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar