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JUSTIN KLINE – Triangle EP

Justin Kline’s 2008 EP ‘Six Songs’ is one of many brilliant, yet unsung power pop releases of the 00’s; it’s six numbers recalling the work of Will Owsley (who sadly left us in 2010). Kline’s follow –up release isn’t exactly what he had planned. With a new release nearing completion, his studio was broken into and the master tapes were stolen.

With only a couple of the songs surviving, work on his full length debut would have to start almost from scratch. So in the meantime, Kline released the early mixes of the two surviving songs, coupled with a couple of out-takes as an EP. ‘Triangle’ (which seems like an odd name, when you consider it features four numbers) is almost split in two regarding musical styles: two of the numbers feature a similar kind of Owsley meets Jellyfish power pop (as delivered on the ‘Six Songs’ release), while the other two show far more invention – maybe pushing things a little too far into unnecessarily quirky territory.

‘Baby, You’re a Mess’ features Kline in classic power pop mode. During this superbly arranged piece of seventies-themed, Jellyfish inspired pop/rock, Kline delivers a simple, catchy hook. His slightly high register is backed ably by chiming chords, solid drumming and an uncomplicated bassline, then topped with an occasional keyboard fill that could be best described as Cars-esque. A strong opener, certainly – one which is almost certain to please fans of Kline’s previous EP. With a slightly spikier feel and use of a timeless “na na”, ‘Alison, We Cannot Be Friends’ takes this style and cranks it up a notch. A strong lead vocal is counterbalanced by multi-layered harmonies and once again, the musical arrangement is brilliant. Beneath the layers of vocals, Kline’s use of electric piano is subtle and although a twangy guitar solo may not appear to be the most obvious style choice here, somehow it seems to work. The end musical arrangement seems far too chirpy for a song about a break-up, but musically, at least, it’s another almost faultless example of classic power pop.

‘Please Go Away’ opts for a carny vibe. It’s not the kind of cool and sinister carnival atmosphere conjured up by Tom Waits on his ‘Blood Money’ disc. Nor is it the kind of brilliant sideshow you could possibly associate with Alice Cooper. No, Kline’s carnival atmospheres are brightly coloured, dizzy affairs – kinda like being stuck on a merry-go-round horse in ‘Mary Poppins’, while being force-fed candyfloss by Dick Van Dyke. A piano waltz provides something off-kilter, but it doesn’t stop there: Kline’s distinctive vocal style makes the piece feel as though it’s spinning even further and keyboard overdubs create a feeling of increasing unease. Throw on some sleigh bells for good measure and the end result becomes rather claustrophobic. ‘The Coffee Song’ closes the EP with a similarly styled sugar overload, being another power pop waltz with multi-tracked vocals, sleigh bells, stabbed piano, whistling and glockenspiel overdubs. Like ‘Please Go Away’ it’s impossible to deny that the end result is expertly crafted – and with great production values – but it’s more than a little cloying.

Since two of ‘Triangle’s four songs veer a little too far towards kitsch values, this is not quite as essential as Kline’s previous EP. If you were a fan of Kline previously, you’ll certainly find something here to make you sit up and take notice, but first time listeners may be better advised to seek out ‘Six Songs’ first.

October 2010

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