I don’t know if you’ve looked at the news lately, dear reader, but it’s entirely possible the world is coming to an end. Between the threats of nuclear war, totalitarianism, and climate change, there’s more than enough reason to think that we’re not going to make it. These feelings of instability and uneasiness have begun to seep into the musical and artistic landscapes, with varying degrees of success. Corey Kilgannon took a step in this direction on his latest effort, also with varying degrees of success.
The high points of As Above, So Below are really high. Kilgannon blends the warbling folk sound of a band like Mumford and Sons with the political consciousness of a Father John Misty. The title track has a bouncing melody that I could listen to on loop for hours. There’s no question, Kilgannon is an extremely talented musician, but, I think the lyrics fall a little short of the music itself.
On the title track of her latest record Norman Fucking Rockwell, Lana Del Rey croons, “Your poetry’s bad, and you blame the news.” I can’t help but think of these words as I listen to As Above, So Below. I don’t intend this as a dig on Kilgannon’s lyricism. His songs are well crafted from top to bottom, but what is apparent about Kilgannon’s work is that it is inextricable from the news cycle. None of the observations he makes about America are technically incorrect, but they do feel extremely familiar. In some ways, this album feels a bit like a CNN segment put to music. Most of the songs on this record all feel either a little too cynical, a little too wistful for yesteryear, and maybe even a little too eager to assign blame where it might not belong. Kilgannon’s criticisms are often not as original or scathing as they are earnest.
“Rich blonde girls drink lattes and take trips to countries for photos with orphans to show everybody, you don’t need salvation if you have enough money.”
The true creative highpoint of the album is “Anthem.” Kilgannon interpolates “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a surprising and effective critical move.
“If we lay down our guns, loss of freedom for love, could a garden still grow in a singe cornered sun?”
Kilgannon asks if it’s even possible for our country to thrive after all that we’ve done to destroy ourselves (and each other). I like this record, and Kilgannon, the best when it’s operating on this broader plan of existential dread.
Part of what I struggled with in reviewing this album was how to manage the peaks and valleys of the listening experience. As Above, So Below is inconsistent tonally. “Anthem,” a song perfectly in touch with the political moment, is on the same tracklist as “Easter Sunday.”
“If I don’t say something vulgar in my lyrics, no one’s going to listen to my songs.”
A song that verges dangerously towards, “Old Man Yells at Cloud” territory. “The Oasis” offers a hopeful vision of an alternate future where people of all creeds can coexist peacefully. “As Above, So Below” immediately reverses that feeling and dives back into cynicism. These songs all work well individually, but as a whole, I was left wondering how I was supposed to feel.
We live in a very confusing time. So I suppose it isn’t the worst thing that an album so heavily influenced by the political climate is a little unsure of where it stands. However, in a world of complete chaos, I think it would have been nice to have heard an album that did the work of sorting through some of the noise for me. I don’t think I learned much by listening to this album, this political commentary didn’t feel original enough to impart any lessons on me. That said, Kilgannon is capable of serious cleverness. In the future, I’d love to see him produce more tracks like “Anthem,” and less that amount to the lowest common denominator of the left.