Two First Names is the solo project of Kevin Lewis, a vocalist and instrumentalist out of Sacramento, CA. Performing mostly as a drummer in the past, Lewis’s project is debuting with the self-titled Two First Names. Combining a singer-songwriter compositional approach with modern rock instrumentation and production, Lewis draws influence from contemporary purveyors of classic styles like Tame Impala.
Opening track “Suffocate” has a bit of a dusty stomp, not unlike the indie-inflected southern rock of My Morning Jacket. Gentle guitar is soon accompanied by a loose, full drum part, allowing Lewis to utilize his experience as a drummer. The vocals stay relatively restrained, starting in a low register and maintaining a softness even as the part rises in pitch. “Suffocate” is a subtle way to start the record, demonstrating parts of what Lewis is doing with his material without overextending the writing or performances.
“All Those Things” has a light reggae-rhythm feel, with bright clean guitars in knotty lines. Lewis continues using his vocals in a coo, here multi-tracking himself only barely for a hint of harmony. His guitar solo is clearly Glenn Frey-influenced, though it comes so early it’s hard to settle back in the original verse pattern. The later guitar break is beautiful, though, with a martial snare pattern that lifts the track to its conclusion.
From here the album moves into dreamy territory, with the American Football-inspired “This Cluttered Space” preceding keyboard-heavy dirge “Patience (Instrumental).” Though the tracks have slightly different vibes, they share a common effect on the album, slowing an already-deliberate pacing and allowing the delicate atmosphere to fade to nearly nothing. The blipping conclusion of “Patience” leaves the listener prepared, for better or worse, to hear something else.
“Captive Company,” fortunately, shakes things up, slipping back towards a southern-rock sway with an overdriven guitar. Though Lewis keeps the vocals understated, the denser, slightly heavier rock arrangement brings the energy that Two First Names needed in its back half. Though the rhythm is somewhat repetitive as the song reaches its fourth minute, “Captive Company” still offers a pep and a variety that helps flesh out Lewis’s creative intention more fully.
“The Hermit” has a dynamism that’s missing in the preceding tracks, moving from a 311-like spacey groove to a dueling-guitar segment. The deep reverb on the vocal parts and the skitters delay on the main guitar part offer textures that belie its straightforward composition. Though short, the track further shakes up the ‘standard’ sound on Two First Names to refreshing effect.
The record ends with a great one-two punch, offering some of the strongest work on the whole album. “It’s All The Same” is the first part of the puzzle piece, with a breezy drum part and soft guitar chugs underpinning a heavily effected guitar swell. The track heads for a slow build, with a dense arrangement giving way to a guitar break, which ultimately opens into a sweet overdriven solo. Though not stylistically shifting too far from its origin, the songwriting incorporates diversity that’s only enhanced by Lewis’s cavernous production tendencies.
“Harsh” follows “It’s All The Same” with a swaying acoustic strum in 3/4. Lewis evokes some of the gentler aspects of ‘90s Britpop, with a crystal-clear production and an interesting blend of keyboards and electric guitar introduced gradually into the mix. The drums slowly grow in intensity, with more and more emphasis on splashy ride cymbal, as Lewis sits in a vocal falsetto for the bridge. Towards the end, the song stops, to restart with acoustic guitar and a light string accompaniment, bringing the drums back eventually before the track fades out. This is the kind of thing I’d love to find on a blind-buy at a record store, something that seems like an indie track from years ago. It’s the perfect conclusion to the record, barely hinting at Lewis’s future potential.
Though it’s occasionally spotty and suffers from slingshot pacing, Two First Names shows glimpses of Lewis’s considerable compositional and performating talent. As a first statement of a new project, it’s understandable that the stylistic elements aren’t very cohesive, but the great moments Lewis provides make the broad diversity easier to digest. As his sensibilities tighten up, Lewis should make some very good records.
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