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Khonnor - Handwriting

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Artist: Khonnor

Album: Handwriting

Label: Type

Review date: Jan. 5, 2005

Connor Kirby-Long, a.k.a. “Khonnor,” has the good fortune of being 18 years old: his youth sets him apart from the scads of twentysomething new artists, thus giving Handwriting a quick and easy selling-point, not to mention the voyeuristic appeal of offering a glimpse into a teenager’s bedroom. Unfortunately, the album also suffers from the very shortcomings one might expect from such a young artist: despite his musical talents, Khonnor falters as a lyricist, overindulges in gimmicky electronic effects, and most importantly, has yet to develop a coherent and distinct style.

The laptop-electronics and acoustic guitar formula that dominates Handwriting isn’t a particularly unique or interesting one: most tracks begin with a simple motif, often a strummed guitar pattern, then proceed to pile on layer after layer of electronic accoutrements. Khonnor’s tendency to embellish ad infinitum is perhaps his greatest weakness: even the tracks that begin effectively enough (the majestically melancholic “Daylight and Delight” or the M83-gone-easy-listening “Megan’s Present,” for starters) quickly pick up messy debris like a snowball rolling down a dirt-covered hill. What was appealing in its original form swells beyond recognition, ultimately becoming an amorphous sonic blob.

Vocals are another major hindrance for Khonnor, who seems intent on burying his voice beneath layers of digital effects, from cavernous echo and reverb to robotic pitch-shifting. When intelligible, his vocals consist of the most clichéd adolescent commonplaces. “Finally convinced myself that I’m not living,” Khonnor sings as the album opens; similar plaints, falling somewhere between Nine Inch Nails and Bright Eyes, are in plentiful supply throughout the rest of the album. Some of the poppier tracks, particularly “Kill2” and “Phone Calls From You,” temper the lyrical melodrama with exaggerated, almost self-mocking musical settings, suggesting that Khonnor might fare better outside of his usual painfully sincere context.

While Handwriting does contain a few impressive moments, it suggests more talent than it actually displays. Khonnor has a knack for lush melancholic atmospheres and plaintive melodies, but often buries them beneath so much gratuitous electronic dirt that they’re barely audible. Similarly, his vocals are so heavily effect-laden that they sound cold and artificial, hardly the best context for confessional lyrics. For all its efforts at intimacy, Handwriting hides too deeply beneath artifice to ever really let the listener in.

By Michael Cramer

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