There's an old youtube clip starring a bumbling Jonah Ray trying to score free drinks at a bar by chatting up the various “power” brokers: the bouncer, the manager, the promoter. “I really like your DJ style—it's a cool mix of old stuff, and that new stuff,” he exclaims to the promoter, quickly winning his affection and a couple of drink tickets.
While as much as that's a compliment many musicians and DJs love to hear, it's often hyperbole at best and patronizing at worst.
Kendra Lou is one of the rare exceptions. Songs of the Black Moon feels very much like a contemporary album, but also manages to throw back to and exceed in a few tried and true genres. Through strong and nuanced vocal performances—supported by equally skilled and varied instrumentation, Kendra Lou harkens back to rockabilly, soul, R&B and jazz while invoking modern elements of indietronica and a sultry smokiness for the digital age.
A Danish expatriate now based out of NYC, Lou eschewed her early attempts at more mainstream, contemporary jazz. She decided let songs evolve in their natural direction rather than squeeze ideas into a template. This is evidenced on the Songs of the Black Moon, with songs split fairly evenly between semi-experimental tracks amalgamating genres and some more straightforward stabs at sound, from blues rock to a stripped down ballad and including a great Motown track, “Call Me (I'll Be There For You).”
While the tracks that hew closer to genre lines range from serviceable to superb, it's the more unique, genre-melding songs that establish Lou's sound as distinct and elevate the record from good to great.
The opening track, “Black Moon,” sets the tone for the album, starting with ringing guitars and ambient instruments before dropping into a satin smooth southwestern riff, punctuated by eerily ringing minor chords. Lou's voice assertively rises to the surface of an already built out sound, commanding the listener to sit back and let her take charge.
Elsewhere on the album, more surprises are in store. The track, “The Coco Tree” starts simple enough with vocals and flanged out guitar, before adding in a couple more instruments. The real surprise comes at the chorus, where delightfully intertwined backing vocals add a slightly different direction of depth, almost akin to some of St Vincent's arrangements. Later, the song “Shadowlands” initially presents itself like a simple soulful waltz, but a couple verses in, male/female baritone accompaniment join to repeat her line before building a beautiful choral scale for Lou to tumble down with an ever-so-slightly unexpected cadence.
It's also well worth noting that the songs almost always lead somewhere, dodging the common trap of verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/etc. Oftentimes new verses will emerge at the end, or reprise themselves in such a developed way that you feel you've followed the song like a novella, from beginning to end.
The album follows suite, with a distinct beginning, middle and end. The outro track comes in two parts, ending with guitar noodling reminiscent of the ambience on the first track. Nestled right in the middle is,“Dream,” the first single off of the album (with a video), that combines thick horns, rockabilly guitar, slick organ and a whole bunch of on-point harmonies.
Songs of the Black Moon was recorded all over Brooklyn, at home and professional studios, as well as some tracking in Lou's closet! For the DIY nature of the recording process, the album feels neither amateurish or discombobulated.
Overall, Songs of the Black Moon is a enjoyable, coherent piece of work. It seemingly marks a departure from Kendra Lou's more conventional background by standing out most when the tracks are the hardest to lump into a genre, when they're simply a cool mix of old stuff, and that new stuff.
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