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Kenneth Higney - Attic Demonstration

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Artist: Kenneth Higney

Album: Attic Demonstration

Label: Kebrutney

Review date: Jul. 23, 2004

It’s nice to see a CD reissue of a record this obscure. Before now, if you owned Kenneth Higney’s Attic Demonstration it likely meant either: A) You were one of the few people to obtain it back in the ’70s; B) You spent way too much money on records (the original vinyl usually sells for around $100); or C) You are Kenneth Higney. But now the man himself has re-released it on CD – and with bonus tracks no less.

Attic Demonstration is a collection of demos performed by Higney in 1976. A New Jersey truck driver looking to jumpstart a career as a songwriter, Higney pressed the record in order to give it to other musicians, in hopes that they would perform his songs. That no one took him up on his offer is not surprising, since this a relentlessly downbeat, ramshackle collection of music. It’s a compelling and frequently bleak piece of work, but not one with much (or anything at all) in the way of the commercial potential Higney may have hoped for. Imagine Neil Young’s depressive masterwork On the Beach, only replace Neil Young with an untrained singer who vacillates between a haunted, plaintive drawl and a raspy shout, force the musicians to play constantly out of time, drench everything in tortured lead guitar, and deprive the band any second-takes.

As Higney explains in his liner notes, all of the music, (including overdubs), was recorded in a single take. That explains the ragged, cacophonous sound of the LP’s two rockers, the opening “Night Rider” and the final track, “No Heavy Trucking.” Perhaps they were intended as anthemic road songs; instead, these are abandoned landscapes as desolate as the one photographed on Attic Demonstration’s front cover – a shaggy haired Higney framed by a dreary cloud-choked sky, a vaguely pained expression on his face, resembling the jean-jacketed lead in some long-lost, Garden State Antonioni film. “Night Rider” is the most upbeat track; Higney harangues the title character, probably a biker, backed by clattering drums and guitars that are rarely in sync with the percussion. The dissonant and claustrophobic “No Heavy Trucking” portrays a truck-driver at the end of his rope, sitting alone and helpless in a malfunctioning rig - a glimpse into the trucker’s life far removed from anything dreamed up by C.W. McCall.

There’s also a plodding dirge sung from the point of view of a disillusioned rock star, a plea for his “Children of Sound” (his songs?) not to leave him and go “die in this world of hate,” and three break-up laments that combine bitter misanthropy and wounded self pity. “Look at the River” is the highlight – it begins as an acoustic rumination on the pain of being left by a woman, but builds into an acidic rebuke of her foolishness in abandoning him (”Your life will be an empty shell / Your life will be a rusty bell”), with Higney‚s increasingly desperate vocals matched by corrosive blasts of guitar.

While the LP showcased Higney’s original songwriting (almost utterly devoid of hope and happiness), the two bonus tracks, both from a single released in 1980, are in a more playful vein. Since they were produced with the intention of actually being released commercially, they are considerably more polished than the demos on Attic Demonstration. “Funky Kinky” is a disco (!) song, complete with a high-pitched chorus and cheesy synths. The stomping glam-rocker “I Wanna be the King” is Higney’s tribute to New York City punkers, and contains a great should-not-be-a-rhyme in the line: “I’m gonna be a star / I hate the sissy music of John Denver!” The single, Higney explains, didn’t get much more attention than Attic Demonstration did – it was a “monster record which drowned in the swamp after being chased by villagers.”

By Mark Hamilton

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