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King Creosote - Thrawn

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Artist: King Creosote

Album: Thrawn

Label: Domino

Review date: May. 6, 2011

Kenny Anderson is one of those super-prolific songwriters. He’s put out literally dozens of albums since 1995. Some are CD-Rs with spray-stenciled covers on his own label, Fence. Others are polished and well distributed by Domino. He’s remained in his home of Fife, and when he straps on an accordion and sings with Scots phrasing and lamenting tone, he’s comfortably folky. He’s also comfortable with lusher pop orchestrations, where his rustic tendencies contrast with the backing. On his 2007 single “You’ve No Clue Do You,” his delivery of the word “you’ve” feels archaic to these American ears, but the synth whirr and layered guitars — and the actual melody — are full-on contemporary singer-songwriter.

Trotting through styles like this is probably a necessity for someone who’s compelled to get so many songs out there. He’s maintained his pace without that one thing that sustains a prolific songwriters so well — a broad cult following. Thrawn is a sampler of previous work, assembled to introduce him in the United States. He did this year’s SXSW, a stretch for a guy who isn’t fond of wandering down to London. The slightly off-the-path Fife is integral to his method. He’s not utterly isolated, but living near the birthplace of golf doesn’t bring through the trendiest crowd. The success of fellow St. Andrews resident and early collaborator KT Tunstall has helped him along, without interfering with his eccentricities.

Thrawn shows him to be a songbook kind of songwriter, not a Mark E. Smith or Robert Pollard, where immersion can be necessary for the style to reveal its pleasures. There are tracks here that could easily be nuggets from Lloyd Cole or Nick Lowe, as befits someone whose stage name seems to be a jokey jab at Elvis flicks. These traditionalist numbers are delivered without retro affect. He’s using the ingredients of any rock songwriter that avoids trends. On the other hand, those guys aren’t exactly jockeying for thrills, and some of the tracks here display more craft than ooomph. “You’ve No Clue” takes its metaphor a bit far, when he sings “Library lead pipe, Professor Plum.”

But when he’s on, he’s on. Anderson has a raw streak under all the orthodoxy that makes for some stunners. Sometime it’s overtly Celtic, sometime gently avant-garde. “Twin Tub Twin” goes all the way with a metaphor likening laundry chores to a romantic disconnect. Musically, it’s a few piano notes and some white noise burbling. The language is dense: “I met her again, her laugh no less wooden / She varnished on a smile like something bad had just happened.” For all the wordplay, the details are cutting and real. He doesn’t say much nice about the woman, yet he’s haunted by the attraction.

Thrawn has no problems getting across Anderson’s strengths, but it’s a fractured listening experience. With hundreds of songs on record, there’s surely no good way to summarize what’s interesting about him. But this is a start.

By Ben Donnelly

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