"Heavy Heartbreak" by Duke Keats

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"Heavy Heartbreak" by Duke Keats


Thankfully, reactions to all forms of art are by their nature subjective. That is very liberating for me as I can concentrate my reviewing enthusiasm upon what excites & moves me & pass over what doesn't with a clear conscience.

Occasionally though, we get close to consensus and over the past year or so, praise for Duke Keats has come flying in from all directions. As you know from my previous articles & can imply from the fact that I'm writing this one, I am fully in tune with that.

I have written at extensive & probably by now tedious length over how I perceive a generational renewal of local music to have occurred recently, raising the artistic bar and redefining what it means to be making original music. Duke Keats has been at the heart of this.

My main concern though is while I know that he is encouraged by this feedback, piling heavy weights of expectation upon him may not be terribly fair. Against this, I do see evidence though that he is taking it all in his stride & keeping quality control up to his normal standards by not responding to demand with a deluge of rushed releases.

We have therefore had to wait until Valentine's Day for his latest single "Heavy Heartbreak" (following the hugely successful ‘Dirty Glamour' EP of last June.

This song in turn is the trailblazer for his next EP entitled (appropriately you might well think) ‘Bornstar' which he promises us will be a further evolution of his music.

Produced again by longer term collaborator Mason Le Long, "Heavy Heartbreak" has multiple levels you can select to explore at your convenience and pleasure. This is a Valentine's Day release so you can take it as a reflection of a bilateral romantic connection if you like. But you know in your heart of hearts this is Duke Keats and he means more than that.

His abiding passion in his songs is much cinematic and he channels movie inspiration just as much as he does musical.

The narrative is complex: a bit sort of David Lynch, with an apparent Los Angeles setting, possibly in a dystopian future (though he could simply be pessimistic about the actual present). Like the central couple in ‘1984', the protagonists may have been torn apart by heavy manners and the oppression of the state… Have a look at the single artwork: those swords piercing the heart are pretty military issue.

Because this is a person whose integrity matches his ability, Duke describes his sound as "sophisticated lo fi" which may have commendable amounts of modesty & self-deprecation within it, but that's far from the full picture. Much of it is presumably a nod towards his appreciation of music history and a desire to match the immediacy of recordings of heroes: other elements may include values such as a desire to erect no barriers between his music and his audience and a dislike of pretension. Mason of course has a very distinguished reputation for both working with "minimal bullshit" artists and with highly experimental ones who know the danger of tipping over into self-indulgence.

Thus we get an unusual mixture of virtuosity tempered by simplicity, innovation rooted in heritage and creativity reined in by taste. No wonder he is so regarded.

He aims to "seamlessly blend and reshape genres, crafting a sonic world uniquely his own" and he's got that down for sure.

I appreciate that some reviewers attempt to break down songs (I probably do this myself from time to time), but I wonder if deconstructing ones which artists had take great pains to blend together is fair on them?

There's a lot in there too: over eight minutes' worth of music so you get plenty of value for money and again it's not indulgence: he could see interestingly places to take the track, took it to them and didn't wish to deprive you of a moment. It would take a lot to convince me to not shy at something that long but my interest was held throughout & I kept wanting to know where it was going next.

In the heady gumbo which constitutes prime Duke Keats music, individuals pick out all sorts of tasty ingredients: even the artist himself includes a few in his public pronouncements. It's not wholly what he puts in however which produces the effects: it's how he uses them and how he surprises us with transitions. All I would say is that of the elements which surprised & delighted me with this one, it was a cheeky bit of old-time saloon piano played on a modern keyboard (and which eventually itself morphs into a very electronic part) which I can't get out of my head. And that's just one cherry in the pie.

I have literally no idea what the rest of his EP will sound like and that's part of the beauty of following Duke Keats' creativity. It'll be unexpected, challenging & stimulating for sure. Oh, and we'll all love it.

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