I should preface this review by saying that I have known Keaton Lawson for over fifteen years. I should also mention that I am practically related to the man as he is engaged to my cousin, has lived in my house on several occasions, and was the dude who handed me the ring I slipped on my wife’s finger at our wedding. Did I mention we’ve also made a lot of music together? Oh yeah, there’s that, too. Needless to say I’ve watched Keaton’s artistic and musical evolution for almost the entire time I’ve known him since it was a mutual love of music and art, especially ‘weird’ music and art that brought us together in the first place.
When Keaton told me that his new album only had fourteen songs, I was a little bit taken aback. This is the same dude who once made two albums with forty songs each, the aptly titled “Music #1” and “Music #2.” The same guy who sat up late in my tiny first apartment creating the abstract work of audio art that was “Carpet Hazard.” This is also the same guy who is beyond a shadow of a doubt one of the best songwriters I’ve ever met but who continues to record abstract audio art by his own admission instead of a collection of “real” songs. Songs like this, which when combined with the voice of my cousin Kristina Garrison are as hauntingly beautiful in their own way as anything you are likely to hear:
So, I was excited by the idea that Keaton had maybe just set down with an acoustic guitar and recorded fourteen songs. Of course, as excited as the idea of such an album by my good friend makes me, that isn’t what this is. Nope, not at all. This is, in fact, more abstract Appalachian audio folk art from the master of abstract Appalachian audio folk art. And it’s absolutely wonderful.
Here, Keaton has tightened up his approach and created a thirty minute expedition into the workings of his mind, and though the trip is short, it’s the most interesting thing he has done to date. Created entirely on an iPhone, the album incorporates loops, samples, acoustic guitar, and spoken word pieces to create a bizarre and wonderful piece of art. It’s hard to classify this as “good” music, because it isn’t necessarily aiming at being “music” at all in the popular sense. And although Keaton Lawson is more than capable of creating an album of catchy, folksy pop songs, he has instead created an album that is a masterpiece in its own right. Right out of the gate, “Buddha Dance” throws the listener into what is going to be a weird and wild ride. “Hide My Soul Away” incorporates synth noise and distorted acoustic guitar in a deconstruction of what could be a beautiful song if that were the goal. “Jeopardy” opens with two lines of lyrics, followed by two minutes of sampled TBN hellfire preaching. “The Rain Burns” is reminiscent of early Ween.
The best track of the bunch, and undoubtedly the best thing I have ever heard by Keaton Lawson in this vein of his work, is the nearly seven minute “Chester” near the end of the album. This haunting spoken word piece has its titular character exploring the sort of philosophical issues that Keaton and myself usually talk about when we meet up. It’s a horror story told through folk poetry that echoes the work of Southern writers such as Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews.
This track alone makes the entire album worth downloading. It’s a work of southern Appalachian beat poetry that’s full of humor and dread. And while I’m still waiting to hear that collection of “serious” songs rather than an experimental album by Keaton Lawson, this album is a great gateway into his work and is sure to be completely unlike anything you have ever heard or experienced.