On James Kelly’s Bandcamp page he explains “It's about my life since the beginning of my sophomore year at college.” Although those days for me personally were well over a decade ago I attest that his songs are ubiquitous with most people around his age. On his album Routines he ponders his place in the universe (which of is course is kind of fun when you are young and have your whole life ahead), relationships, being drunk, etc. Kelly arms himself with not much else than a severe case of melancholy and an acoustic guitar. Not unlike Conor Oberst and the countless like minded artists that came before and after him Kelly sometimes feels self-indulgent and sometimes hits it on the nail.
The hardest thing about Routines to take down is that there is no variation amongst the instrumentation. At eleven songs and just his vocals and acoustic guitar I think even Kelly's biggest fan won't be able to handle these eleven songs in succession. Even artists who are above and beyond talented with just an acoustic guitar and vocals like Sufjan Steven know the human mind needs variation. Now I'm sure that in Kelly's case it may be simply a case of resources but if he hopes to take this music thing seriously he will have to expand his palette with at the very least different texture and tones.
The opener “Musings of a Morning” is like looking into the diary of a typical college student. He sings, “Oh what a way to complicate my constant pain I'm feeling jaded, emasculated Sobriety is fucking overrated We can pretend that we're still friends but we both know it's coming to an end Unless you say that there's a chance Oh really? Then let's just say we were drunk.”
On other songs Kelly has the same epiphanies that everyone else has after they have got into Carl Sagan or their first halfway decent drug experience. He sings, “I like the feeling of rocks in my shoes 'cause it gives me something to focus on It lets me know that when I'm dead I won't really be gone Because my body will turn to dust And that dust in turn to stone It'll be a companion for a lonely traveler on this vast dark empty road.” It’s like “Dust In the Wind” 2.0.
Kelly's best lyrics are the ones that don’t dig too deep but chronicle a day in the life of a young kid. Lyrics like, “Optimistically stick a condom in your pocket It's too late Nothing's gonna stop you from feeling disappointed when she says She's just tired and wants to go to bed” can resonate with any young guy who doesn’t know what to do with an overflow of testosterone.
Truth be told you won’t get much enjoyment from this album if you hope to hear creative guitar arrangements and someone with golden pipes. Kelly’s biggest strength is his storytelling. At the end of the day Kelly can’t be anything he is not. He is a young man who from his songs sounds pretty normal. If nothing else people of the same age should be able to relate to that.
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