Lost Cities – Ed Kuepper (Prince Melon)

lost citiesTo those who witnessed Ed Kuepper’s live shows last year in which he first aired this new crop of songs, we were set afloat in a dimly-set world and intimate setting. 

Ed was sitting on his throne; his approach was self-absorbed, ambient and ethereal, yet focused. With the odd Scotch on the rocks being downed, Kuepper was in fine form.

It was only late in the set that he played the odd request. I can understand why Ed was a little less than forthcoming and a touch cynical in pushing forward his old material. Of course, he is proud of these songs. That said, the performance was dedicated to the presentation of songs on this album, “Lost Cities”, then unreleased.

“Lost Cities” is one of those albums that creeps up on you. I have been listening to it for more than a week now. At first I found it difficult to review: it was so damn subtle. Yes, I heard the trademark Kuepper chord changes and twists with vocal melodies yet it was coming from a slightly different place from previous albums.

One of the reasons is there are no collaborations, no band members. All percussion, guitars, bass and drums are by Ed.

“Pavanne” opens with a slowly lifting ambiance. Kuepper has been experimenting with soundscapes with recent albums, more and more. I am referring to on 2013’s “Second Winter” in particular. On that album I stated that Ed was almost there. I knew what he trying to achieve and at times it worked, sometimes not. He was experimenting with soundscapes and reinventing his previous material with this approach.

Ed has hit the bullseye on “Lost Cities”. He goes further now with the ambiance, using a series of instruments. Sometimes he adds melody and other times throwing in calmness and then harsh discordance Melodically, Ed’s vocals are beautiful. Kuepper is really lifting the benchmark with this part of his writing on this album.

“Free Passage to Mars” begins with a simple three-line hook and builds with layers and layers with layers of tones…..sometimes you forget that it’s just Ed here; the sophistication of the arrangements are tangential. It a rare musician who gets it this right. At times it could be even the Laughing Clowns in full flight.

I was once told by an old musician, and one of the finest guitar players I know, that every musician ends up at the Delta, and that every songwriter, or guitar player worth their salt, owns a Charlie Patton or an early Sun House record. I am sure Ed has been that down that road and explored that rootsy and simple music of hard times. He’s now reinventing some classic Delta blues guitar lines.

It is Ed Blues: as he takes a simple riff and tuning: then pulls it apart, reconstructs and layers it with a series of tonal arrangements. And ambiance.
Songs like “Some Said” are closer to the classic Ed and could have fitted on these late ‘80s albums. I actually can hear the Yard Goes On Forever here. Again, Ed employs an ambiance that creeps up on throughout the song.

“(It’s) Never Too Late” Is almost Beatleish with it strength in its melodies. It’s a tortured song which, lyrically, is almost akin to Leonard Cohen. It is certainly haunting. There is again this intensity with the arrangement and vocal delivery.

“What I Can Leave You” shows you don’t need extreme volume to express anger or to express emotion, and still leaves the listener bleeding.

“The Ruins” is another subtle creature; We hear arrangements of sound and then another almost traditional blues riff. Kuepper again layers the sound within “Fever Dream”.

What strikes me are the complexities of Ed’s vocal melodies. They are stronger with every album, while his soundscapes and arrangements are polished and stunningly haunting.

“Lost Cities” is a powerful piece of music. An ambitious album and Ed Kuepper has pulls it off brilliantly. - Edwin Garland

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This one snuck out at the tail-end of 2015 so excuse the tardiness in bringing it to your attention. The physical product got way-laid by Australia Post so this review is by way of those new-fangled MP3 thingoes.

If you need to ask who Ed Kuepper is you’re in the wrong place. As a pioneer of new and innovative sounds, he and his original band (they’d be the Saints) grew up in a parallel punk universe to the rest of the world. It’s one he left quite a few lifetimes ago so if you’re new to the solo music stuff but know how he started, you might find “Lost Cities” hard to come to tackle. The rest of you (and us unabashed Kuepper fans) know what to expect.

Which is Kuepper the moving object, entirely at home with the musical neighbourhood that he occupies. Ed never stands still, even when re-inventing himself or looking back, and his long and winding career continuum commands undivided attention. Nobody sounds like Ed Kuepper but each release (all 50 of them) sounds just like him. But “(I’m) Stranded”, this is not.

This is Kuepper solo, accompanied (again) by his guitar with effects boxes, occasional keys and percussion. He plays the lot. There’s a massive emphasis on harmonics and atmospherics that puts “Lost Cities” in a unique space.

Ed’s lyrics are immediate and almost always in the first person; the voice that was once deemed by critics to be stuck in an S-bend somewhere between the tonsils and his tongue now sounds sonorous with a rich, dry warmth. Sparse is the catch-cry with plenty of room for the words. This album sits well alongside “Second Winter”, the moody re-casting of “Electrical Storm”.

It’s music best consumed in substantial servings. A term like “suites” is pretentious but these aren’t flakey pop or meandering prog songs. They’re economical and melodic but intense.

Cock an ear to “Pavane”, for example, an arresting opener dominated by Kuepper’s haunting vocal and substantive lyrics. Or the widescreen “Fever Dream”, which taps the mood of soundtrack material Kuepper has been working with lately. A quiet rhythmic thud and wry lyrics are entwined by Kuepper’s crawling black snake guitar. “Free Passage To Mars” uses words sparingly and well, accompanied by a haunting guitar figure.

"What Can I Leave You When I'm Gone" features some superb guitar playing and - ironically amongst all this talk of ambient noise and layered sopundscapes - is the tune that I could hear a fully-amped Kuepper band like The Aints playing. 

“Queen of the Vale” is a remarkable closer, ruled by waves of guitars and summoning (indirectly) the same sort of intensity Kuepper captured with the Saints, all those years ago. “The Ruins” switches to ethereal with a quiet sonic wash fading in and then out. And then there’s “Some Said…”, the pick of a superb bunch of songs here. A throbbing rhythmic undertow and stark guitar pull the tune along. - The Barman

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Prince Melon Records

Tags: saints, ed kuepper, laughing, clowns, prince melon, lost cities

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