A camera zooms in without crowding its subject. A song about someone else’s damage helps you understand your own, and puts you on to new mysteries. Stars look like grains of sand. On Little Kid’s new album and Orindal Records debut A Million Easy Payments, the urgency in Kenny Boothby’s voice matches the stakes of his lyrics, epic ballads and reveries that come at life from all angles and exposures, driving at and a little over the limits of self-reflection. The band’s lilting folk rock arrangements carry Boothby’s stories, occasionally lifting them skyward with flurries of cello samples, pedal steel, flute, and electric piano. It’s a record of depression and frustration that doesn’t stew in piety or aestheticize pain, that also explodes with life. Fragile and abundant. It’s a record with blood in its veins.
Little Kid is a Toronto-based collaborative project that has existed in some form since 2009, and is currently comprised of Brodie Germain (drums, guitar), Paul Vroom (bass), Megan Lunn (vocals, banjo, keyboard), Liam Cole (drums, percussion), and Kenny Boothby (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards). A Million Easy Payments, like the three Little Kid releases before it, was tracked, engineered, and mastered by Vroom. Vroom’s work renders a portrait of Little Kid’s twin musical strengths — as a live act, a straight-ahead folk rock outfit, and as a group of creative, independent producers who want to mess things up. To that end, the record features several guest instruments: Eliza Niemi’s cello, Anh Phung’s flute, Seth Engel’s percussion, Peter Gill’s pedal steel, and Aaron Powell’s voice. Every so often, the boundaries fray. Chaotic flute layers transport the outro to “Beside Myself.” Banjo careens off the edge of “Something to Say.” The kick drum in “Bad Energy” is more than a heartbeat.
Like a minimalist composition, an Emily Dickinson poem, a Frankenthaler painting, early Sufjan Stevens, or the songs of many of Little Kid’s new labelmates at Orindal, A Million Easy Payments is brilliant insofar as it teems with texture and meaning under an outward image of simplicity. A peacock in sheep’s clothing. Its lyrical and musical density never comes at the expense of clarity or striking melodies. Like your favorite movie or novel, you come back to A Million Easy Payments again and again for the pleasure of its beauty, but also because it reveals something new every time.
Little Kid has always centered around Boothby’s songwriting, and A Million Easy Payments proves his enormous skill many times over. He tackles the extended ballad tradition, zooming in and out with mind-bending control on “Bad Energy”:
And now your engine burns remains of ancient birds
Go into town to drive around and then leave
You tore a gash right clear through the atmosphere
And now there’s nothing that can buffer the heat
But the sun is shining and your love is smiling
In a moment getting warmed by a beam
Of bad energy
Boothby’s writing is charged with love, absence, stagnation and change, often refracted through the lens of Christian thought, experienced by friends, exes, everyday people and Biblical characters. Later on in “Bad Energy,” Boothby jokes “if you’re only friendly with a dozen men/ one might still kill you with a kiss on the cheek.” In “Eggshell,” a ghost reflects on his own death to his widow, a story based on the death of Boothby’s father: “ambulances came/ weaving a whining siren down the highway/ leaving a smiling silence in your life, babe.” The “I” sound woven in descending melodies. Two lanes of Boothby’s airy tenor. Two lanes of guitar.
Across A Million Easy Payments, Boothby’s dexterity, rhythm, internal rhyming prowess, and ear for poetic sound are matched only by the pathos of his stories. The words are crafted deliberately, not to show off mastery, but to share hard-earned findings. To try and see the self in context and up close, and to prove the inquiry to be both futile and crucial. To dig around for God. The pool is murky. Not as reflective as we’d hoped. — Dan Wriggins
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