Brian Kusek, otherwise known as Brian K, has led an intriguing life, enhanced by music while punctuated by serious tragedy. Raised in the country fields of Illinois---which is evident in the rootsy, rural charm of his music---he relocated to St. Paul, Minnesota, in order to pursue a serious music career after the death of his former blues-rock outfit's keyboardist. After the band's sudden end, Kusek began to extensively jot out a blueprint for a brand new solo career, more reminiscent of 60s folk than the grittiness and dark moodiness of the blues. He carries this forward with sincerity and earnestness, accentuated by sorrow but audibly hopeful as well. Subtler, more emotional, and more introspective, Kusek's new music is deceptively simple. On his debut solo record, Fel Mem, there is a profound sense of both newness and nostalgia; the combination is suited to the title, which is a shortened and more accessible version of the Latin phrase "felicis memoriae," which means "of happy memory."
Lyrically, Fel Mem is equal parts happy and intensely dark. It is intentionally opaque, but definitely thematic, serving as an auditory document of the morbid anxiety Kusek faced in the wake of the loss of his former band mate and the hope and optimism associated with his new future as a solo artist. There is honesty to be found here, whether you choose to listen to the album casually or with a more open mind, and pieces of the puzzle begin to fall together as you listen to the lyrics. It is easy to develop a sense of what happened and how it affected those involved; for example, "Moonshine" was allegedly written immediately after the funeral of Kusek’s late friend, giving it a certain realism that is lost in songs written, say, years after specific events occurred.
Kusek's experiences in the backwoods of the Midwest sound quaint, and the subtle acoustic fingerpicking patterns provide a calming backdrop to his dry and smoky voice, crooning soft and beautiful melodies that fall together as neatly as the changing of the seasons. And this is a perfect album to listen to this week, as the weather begins to shift from sweltering humidity into burnished gold bliss; there is something distinctly autumnal about Kusek's voice, refreshingly soothing but also occasionally haunting, such as on the track "Rawr," which is definitely the darkest on an otherwise gentle and intuitive album.
In fact, for being so emotionally provocative and lyrically profound, this record is essentially void of the tragic, whining melancholy often found in this type of music. On the contrary, the feathery lightness of tracks such as "Fear and Trembling" feel utterly familiar, as gentle as lullabies, as tangible as a November rainstorm, and as gripping as a half-remembered dream.
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