After releasing two solo EPs dedicated to multi-layered, sun-filled power pop, followed by a third outing of alternative rock (with his band Origami Hologram), singer-songwriter Justin Kline takes a different tack yet again for his first full length release.
‘Cabin Fever Songs’ is a stripped down affair. Recorded entirely by Kline alone at home, these thirteen songs feature voice and acoustic guitar, sometimes bolstered by bass and occasional keyboards. The songs sometimes come from a much darker place. Where previously Kline was happy to indulge his listeners in a world of candyfloss brilliance, these songs rely on sheer honesty and heartfelt lyrical content far more frequently than before. These are songs the artist felt he just had to write: deeply personal songs, which given the relatively lo-fi recording techniques, can sometimes feel a little bleak. Stripped of all the bells and whistles which made his previous recordings so vibrant, it’s much easier with ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ to get a handle on what makes Kline’s songs work…or in some cases, not.
‘Nighttime Girl’ has all the hallmarks of Kline’s earlier brilliance, though in this sparser setting, it exposes how simple his songs can be. Clean acoustic chords back a voice that occasionally sounds a little sugary for such an earnest recording, while a bassline marks time, never really breaking beyond its two note march. A world of “oohs and ah’s” flesh things out adequately – and in all honesty, are very much needed. ‘Resurrect With Me’, if anything, is even more simple, relying on a one line hook and not the most interesting of tunes. The bass’s marching approach returns for ‘Sunday Night Blues’ a three-chord pop song which showcases Kline’s previous gift for a hook, even though this bedroom recording doesn’t do such a potentially great song justice.
‘Your Mystery’ is one of a few numbers where Kline tackles something truly worthy of standing alongside his previous work. Here, a quirky keyboard tune (sounding slightly distorted and off-key) tops a much busier acoustic riff. Even without full band backing, Kline’s multi-tracked vocal is a ray of sunshine, while a more staccato approach on a hooky chorus allows his previous brilliance to come bursting through. The woozy ‘His Knives’ works an unfussy melody and riff around a shiny sounding vocal to create something enjoyably intimate – one of a few tracks where the lack of drums isn’t quite as obvious – while on ‘I Already Do’, Kline turns an enjoyable intimacy on its head and unnerves with a truly bleak lyric. The one-time purveyor of sunshine pop allows a look into his darker side via lyrics such as “there is no way you can act, to expose the life I lack” and “I was marked when I was born and cursed to always mourn / you can’t make me want to die, more than I already do”. While he admits that these songs were created during a particularly troubled period, it is unlikely anyone familiar with Justin’s earlier releases expected anything quite so cutting.
The relationship once explored in ‘Triangle’s ‘Alison, We Cannot Be Friends’ is revisited and explored from a different viewpoint on a particular high point, ‘Alison, I’m Here’. Where as previously Kline was adamant that he and the Alison in question had no more to give each other, on the slightly wistful acoustic sequel, he reaches out to the imagined heroine. A gorgeous finger-picked guitar has a slight McCartney-esque approach and is impeccably delivered, but it’s this songs bittersweet melody and dual vocal which gives it a most enjoyable quality. It’s easy to imagine both songs bookending a compilation of Kline’s best work, should such a release ever appear. Just as enjoyable, the jangly ‘Carol Lynn’ is classic Kline: with an upbeat vocal and buoyant melody, this number is a great acoustic pop workout, underpinned by a ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ inspired mellotron accompaniment. Looking beyond the sugary, happy melodies, Kline takes on the role of untrustworthy narrator, delivering the song’s brilliant kick in the teeth via a lyric that forewarns of Carol Ann’s bad streak.
Although the songs are deeply personal and rather candid, ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ is an underwhelming beast at times. If you’re a listener who values tunes over lyrical content, the relative lack of variety within this album may become quickly apparent…and it probably wasn’t meant for you anyway. Long standing fans may find some of the songs are in danger of sounding a little unfinished, but if this is the case, don’t worry too much; as Kline says himself of ‘Cabin Fever Songs’: “It might not be for everyone…it may even be a letdown to some”.
If after a few plays you’re still listening, feeling there’s something here, but still finding yourself looking for that moment where everything clicks, try thinking of this as a collection of songs instead of a fully formed “album”. At first, avoid listening from end to end: dip in and out and it works far better. If, after that, you’re still not convinced, just remember one thing: Justin doesn’t necessarily care if we like these songs or not, they just needed to shared. Sharing one’s art can be a wobbly experience, but the stark honesty and cathartic edge at the heart of these ‘Cabin Fever Songs’ may appeal to some.
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