It says a lot about our society when a high school senior sounds like a 70-year old world-weary war veteran. While it’s not that surprising to dispel the “best years of our lives” myth of adolescence, which can be a confusing and tumultuous time, the fear, confusion, aimlessness and resignation of Wellesley, Massachusetts’ Fred Kelly is a bit startling, not to mention worrisome.
“Wouldn’t mind the grind / if it ever ended / wouldn’t mind the grind / If it brought me closer to you,” sings Kelly over a knotty, gnarled electric guitar line and weirdly intricate drumming of album opener “Seventy One Percent” from New Conscience by Fred Kelly. Stepping out into the unknown is always intimidating, but Kelly’s reedy tenor gives a chilling voice to a future in free-fall, like Wiley Coyote spinning his legs for eternity to keep gravity at bay.
Kelly speaks with the wisdom of someone two and a half times his age, speaking of tired eyes and “the adult I should be by now.” Kelly’s all-too-aware that time is of the essence. There is a feeling that if you haven’t founded your first start-up before you’re out of high school, the race has already been run. It’s already too late.
Listening to New Conscience reminds us all that this is all utter bullshit. As Penelope Cruz reminds us in Vanilla Sky, “every passing moment is another chance to turn it around.” And Fred Kelly hasn’t exactly been wasting his time, judging from the musicianship and production skills on this debut.
New Conscience falls, most pertinently, into the genres of ‘anti folk/folk punk’ - intellectual lyrics over rough and raw usually acoustic instrumentation from artists like Andrew Jackson Jihad along with genre’s patron saints like The Microphones/Mount Eerie, The Mountain Goats, and Neutral Milk Hotel. Like The Microphones or The Mountain Goats, Kelly relies more on emotion and expression than technicality, when he pushes his vocals to the edge of breaking into a million pieces, as an effect.
Unlike many folk punks, however, Kelly doesn’t stop at the raw, ragged sounds of lo-fi. You can hear Kelly’s other half of infectious power pop a la Weezer in the anthemic, melodic, memorable guitar hooks and sing-along choruses, which will do a lot to make sure that many will hear Kelly’s songs of existential protest.
Kelly kicked his musical career into third gear after winning 2014’s Berklee Songwriter’s Showcase. Fred Kelly went above and beyond, with New Conscience, recording every element and aspect of this delicious debut himself, using a modest two-channel audio interface and built-in FX. These are the details that help someone thrive not only in the music world, writing compelling, relatable songs that people will love and bring into their lives, but also in every other aspect of life.
It’s not entirely a newsflash that the status quo have absolutely zero clues about how the world functions any longer. It seems that the more jaded and out of step someone feels, the better off they’ll probably be. In a world that rewards mediocrity and selfishness, isn’t it about time we really strive for something exceptional? New Conscience is one outcropping of that urge.
“This is going to be my year,” concludes Kelly on “365.” We agree, mate, we agree.
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