When Princeton, New Jersey singer-songwriter Christine Spilka isn’t co-fronting the New Jersey indie pop outfit The Jean Jackets, she makes her own brand of upbeat indie pop under the moniker Bay Kee. Both Spilka’s work as Bay Kee and The Jean Jackets are on the lighter and albeit more downtrodden side, her work as Bay Kee is all her own. Her solo work has a breathiness and softer instrumentation than the more hallowed sound put out by The Jean Jackets. Spilka is not alone on her first five-song solo EP though and that’s a good thing as singer songwriters go. It makes her debut The Man with Red Eyes much fuller with the addition of Harrison Teich on bass and Andrew Henry on drums with Spilka playing guitar.
Among the influences cited by Spilka are her Jean Jackets’ band mate Jackson Phinney and reigning indie pop princess Angel Olson. I don’t know much about Jackson Phinney though I have had chances here and there to listen to Angel Olson and I can say that I see the resemblance, though I wouldn’t necessarily count that as a plus. In this day and age there are plenty of Angel Olson’s though some of them simply have more likes than others.
To get back on track, The Man with Red Eyes is a very easy listening record. The melodies are fully fleshed out and the lyrics are obscure enough but not ridiculously so, as can befall the singer-songwriter at every turn and end up causing them to look like someone who picked up a guitar as an outlet to get over a breakup. And though many of the five songs on The Man with Red Eyes deal with less than ideal outcomes of male-female relationship mishaps, the well-orchestrated mellow low-fi pop backing up the themes is enough to forgive Spilka her foibles of treating us to stories of her former heartaches.
The albums opener “The Exception” is slow rolling semi-dream pop built on a frolicking melody further enhanced by Spilka’s confident yet delicate vocals. “Living Alone” by contrast picks up the pace a bit with sunny bass and guitar build-ups. The title track “The Man with Red Eyes” matches the dreaminess of “The Exception” with bristling low-fi guitar strums and wavering beats. Be it irony or just pure luck of the draw, the final track “Not That Good” is the The Man with Red Eyes most standout track.
It is ‘60s styled pop perfection and contains some of the Spilka’s best lyrical moments as she asks “Did you love me more then/ when I was quiet?” and “Tell me I'm not that good/judge me till I've understood/Bags form under my eyes/from squinting through the blinds.” These metaphors sung in Spilka’s breathy girl pop falsetto help to make this little EP what it is; five songs about moments most everyone can relate to.
The Man with Red Eyes is a record one can easily get lost in. It has a dreamy elegance, but moreover its themes aren’t overly penetrating, which is to say they are not begging the listener for sympathy that so many solo records often do. Instead they are like overhearing a conversation you can relate to. For that alone The Man with Red Eyes deserves to be heard and heard again.
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