Second Winter - Ed Kuepper & Mark Dawson (Prince Melon Records)
“Second Winter” feels almost like a concept album. Those are familiar with Kuepper’s work since his solo debut of “Electrical Storm” of 1985 will find it all like a passage between the past and the shadows of previous melodies and phrases. It's rather haunting.
Even the cover of the record has captured the ambience of the front of his first solo album (also made with long term collaborator, drummer Mark Dawson.) This shot shows four identified figures leaving an entrance of a stone building.
Is it a re-working of previous songs or another greatest hits? Neither. It is Ed is reinterpreting his music with new ambiance and attempting to re-direct the moods and emotions. Tonal colourings move in out with a feeling of renewed orchestration and depth. Maybe Ed just wanted to simply rework the songs that he recorded almost 30 years ago with fresh ears?
“One Small Town 2015” starts with the ambience of Ed’s distinctive acoustic guitars, with a minor riff and sense of a tiny Australian country, three-street town. The orchestrations begin and we are led into a gentler version of the classic “Car Headlights” from “Electrical Storm”. It feels like we are in an early morning fog, all pilled and caffeine-up and awake for 20 hours on the road with no sleep. Then we are again taken back into ambience, setting the mood for the next song.
“Sixteen Days” follows and is a beautiful song; it moves along into the bluesy of opening riff of “Told Myself”, followed by the country tang of “Two Servants.” These songs build and build, again flowing in and out of the background ambiance. This almost reaches the heights of the raising-the-hairs-on-your-arms “Eraserhead” soundtrack.
“Trick or two’ is a tender love song. Lyrically gentle, and has always been Kuepper’s strengths. His words are often poetic and mixing things up with a series of images and often daily observations. Again, we are treated to gentle versions of “Electrical Storm” and “Rainy Night” with Ed’s line: ”I killed of that sacred cow for money” hitting home. I wonder was this the end of The Laughing Clowns? Only Ed knows the meaning this line.
The soundscape moves from gentle hum to chains and almost anarchic John Cale screeching sounds found on the Velvet Underground’s “White Light White Heat”. Interweaved throughout is the sound of Robert Knaggs on Celli and Joshua Watson with on violin, bells and bowels
Ed’s vocals shine throughout. Over the past decade, Kuepper has really found his voice; it is deadpan, yet melodic and at all times sitting over Ed’s intricate guitar playing with his variations of tunings and signature riffs. Just like Ed Kuepper, Rowland S Howard and Deniz Tek have developed their own original paths and styles. Within four bars you know it is them. Unlike Tek, or Howard. Ed also manages to be able to transfer this unique style to his acoustic guitar.
Ed Kuepper took risks on this album “Second Winter” by reworking his material. There is so much thought and I imagine long nights experimenting with the mixes. Does it work? Yes, mostly. This is an album that’s interesting and so explorative. – Edwin Garland
There was little pre-release intelligence about this one so hopefully anyone who plunged their heard-earned down the belief it was a record of all new tunes wasn't disappointed. Frankly, the re-working of these songs from two of Ed Kuepper's best solo albums, "Electrical Storm" and "Rooms Of The Magnificent", is so radical that it renders "Second Winter" a whole new listening experience.
You probably know that Herr Kuepper is Also Sprach, The King of Re-Invention and it's his sparse and inspired duo configuration with the immensely talented traps man Mark Dawson that's occupied his recent touring time. Going into the studio to record something together sounds logical enough, in hindsight.
"Second Winter" is an intimate affair with close-mic'ed Kuepper vocals and all manner of Dawson percussive gymnastics laying down the pattern. There's occasional augmentation (cello on "Told Myself", bells on "Master of 2 Servants") and frequent waves of odd dissonance that create ethereal sonic textures. Case in point is "No More Sentimental Jokes" where the guitar sits starkly against Dawson's bare bones beat and lingering atmospherics.
The nearest "Second Winter" goes to full-throated guitar Sainthood is "Palace of Sin" where a passage of distorted six-string shreddage creeps in and out of the tune. Dawson's feels come into their own on this one and he drags/pushes the beat along with Ed intoning over the top. It's the rocking-est song on the disc but not the least out of place. The intensity of most of these songs lies in their playing.
Committed Kuepper fans have heard countless versions of "Electrical Storm" and this one resists the original's break into a canter, slipping instead into another synthesised fade-out. It's an easy segue into "Rainy Night" and the song's put to bed in similar style.
If you were lucky, you'd have grabbed the "tour edition" with a bonus CD of a Kuepper-Dawson gig at Sydney's Basement. This is from the 2011 tour where they reprised "Today Wonder" - with a few choice extras tossed in.
It's wonderfully recorded and a great performance with very relaxed banter that forever belies the oft-written journalistic depiction of Kuepper The Curmudgeon. Then again, the picky ones will write, he was among friends. – The Barman