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King of Foxes: Twilight of the Empire
(Crystal Babe Music, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 1/18/2023)
While much of commercial pop music is drawing on the rhythm based paradigm of hip-hop, with melody de-emphasized or absent entirely, there continues to be a strong undercurrent of alternative artists whose influence is tuneful pop, sometimes consciously being retro, and in other cases, going in their own direction.
This week we have another example of tuneful, catchy pop rock that draws on influences from the past and present. It’s the latest album by the Canadian project King of Foxes, called Twilight of the Empire, the third by the group.
Actually King of Foxes is mainly one person, guitarist and vocalist Olivia Street, who works with multi-instrumentalist Stew Kirkwood. Her stock in trade is catchy melodies with an alternative edge, with often clever lyrics. The musical setting is straight ahead rock and pop with electric guitars being the instrumental focus, and little in the way of electronically generated sounds. Their music can run from retro, evoking pre-rock styles to some punk rock. The writing is first-rate with not only tunes you can go around humming, but also compositions that take interesting melodic or stylistic turns.
Like a lot of music emerging these days, the album was recorded in the midst of the pandemic, over a period of months in what is described as a “basement with beige shag carpet on the walls.” Almost of all of it was performed by Ms. Street and Kirkwood, who played guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, with a guest appearance by a couple of horn players. So this is one of those intense projects with the two of them doing a lot of overdubbing to make the band sound. Still, it comes off well with that kind of painstaking attention to detail in the layering, contributing to the tightness of the sound, which is a plus for this kind of music.
Most of the songs are about relationships in one state or another, but there’s some philosophy woven in at times, with some good turns of phrase. Like most music of this genre, the songs are succinct, with only one timing in at over four minutes.
Opening the compact 33-minute album is a song that comes to epitomize the sound of the album Doomed to Repeat with its decidedly retro beat, and Ms. Street’s clever lyrics. <<>>
Speaking of clever, that certainly describes the following track, Only Here on Loan which manages to get some Zen-like philosophy into a tune that evokes an old-fashioned mambo sound. <<>>
Pleasant Solutions is a more electric tune about the frustrations of one’s career or path in life. <<>>
A track called Dark Horse is another song about considering what fate has to offer, done in a more rock-oriented musical context. <<>>
One of the most interesting songs on the album is Never Mine with some more of Ms. Street’s contemplative lyrics, and ab appropriate musical setting. <<>>
King of Foxes goes punk rock on a tune called Swimming in the Undertow, though the lyrics are definitely a cut above the stuff of punk. <<>>
The album ends with a song called Walls which is also marked by astute lyrics and a retro pop sound. <<>>
Twilight of the Empire the new third release by the Alberta, Canada, based King of Foxes, who are Olivia Street with Stew Kirkwood, is a pleasing album of melodic rock with intelligent, often clever lyrics with the influences running from 60s British Invasion to 80s punk. Ms. Street and Kirkwood made for a tight sound between them by means of a good deal of overdubbing in their basement studio during the pandemic.
Our grade of sound quality if a B+ with excessive compression and taking the dynamics out of the music and the lead vocals not very cleanly recorded. Also the mix is such that it’s sometimes hard to make out the lyrics.
Melodic pop, retro and otherwise, seems in no danger of extinction. Kings of Foxes serve us up a worthwhile helping.
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