Artist: The Kyle Sowashes
Album / Label: I Don’t Know What To Tell You / Anyway Records
Rating: 8.5 / 10
There comes a time in everyone’s life when the antics, frivolity and exuberance of post-teen years begin to dim. The reasons why are myriad, with the changes usually occurring with subtle nonchalance.
The dawning realization of celebrating the beginning of your fourth decade on this spinning hunk of rock we call home, coupled with marriage or having children (to name a few examples), the phrase “Where did the time go?” seems to resonate more frequently.
Kyle Sowash succinctly tackles this phenomenon with his typical aplomb soaked in musical anecdotes, oozing with nostalgic semi-tragedy on The Kyle Sowashes latest release, I Don’t Know What To Tell You (available September 13 on Anyway Records).
The band consists of Sowash (vocals/guitar), Dan Bandman (drums), Justin Hemminger (guitar/vocals) and Nick La Russo (bass). While some might lament the hubris of naming a band after yourself, it begins to make sense with the ever-changing lineup since their genesis in 2006. They returned to Musicol Recording Studios in Columbus, Ohio to record the new album in February of this year.
The genius of Sowash’s songwriting is in conveying everyone’s feelings with humor in the usually upbeat songs that inhabit the band’s albums, with the occasional gloaming percolating just below the surface.
I Don’t Know What To Tell You is the band’s fourth album on Anyway Records, and is by far the strongest collection of songs contained within the group’s discography. The vintage sound of early 90’s college indie rock permeates the fourteen tracks on the album.
But Sowash shows a depth of rumination that, at times, is masked behind the upbeat nature of the distorted guitars, varied musical hooks and his rather unique vocal styling that is somewhere between a gruff shout and a coarse whisper.
The album is full of Columbus locales and characters that will bring a smile to the faces of those that have been around the local music scene for longer than two weeks. Most will chuckle right along with Sowash when they hear them sung without a bit of ostentation. You had to be there, as the saying goes.
Columbus venues Ace of Cups (where the band will play their album release show on Friday, September 13) and Café Bourbon St. are mentioned in the album’s first track, Washed Up, without a hint of irony. The handclaps that open the number are very reminiscent of the early era of The Cars. The upbeat pace is juxtaposed with the lyrical realization of a musical career that isn’t what it once was.
Bottled Up tells the specious story of the perils inherent in homebrewing. Although, beer is just the vehicle within which the story travels on its metaphorical journey through the aging process, with Sowash relating how to let your feelings breathe before they explode. Once again, they create a catchy musical earworm complete with a horn section blaring blissfully away.
The first single (and third track) from the album, Bowling Ball, is a jocular tale told from the perspective of, you guessed it, a bowling ball. Again, the band keeps the tempo upbeat while Sowash sails the analogous seas of humorous storytelling with his distinct vocals. I know a few people that are the bowling ball within the song.
The uphill battle to stay positive in the face of the results of the last presidential election are showcased in Bumming Me Out. When Sowash laments for a time that has now been buried over the last few years, we commiserate with him. “Now you’re armed to the teeth / And you’re hoping that they’ll take you way back when / So that you and all the good ol’ boys can pretend / That America is great again … And you’re just bumming me out.”
Musicians will rejoice in Not All Heroes Wear Capes, the tale of a dubious venue owner that gets his comeuppance through the creative use of pink spray paint to decorate his driveway with a phallic appendage that drives home the line “He sees the big ‘ol dick that he’s become.” Sowash weaves a lyrical trope that leaves not much to the imagination. It’s either brilliance or madness, which we’ll leave to listener to determine.
You Can Do It reinforces the notion that there is hope for us all to achieve whatever we set out to accomplish. The band, at this point, is humming along like a well-oiled machine, with a driving, yet understated beat that carries the message along effortlessly.
The feelings that first appeared in Bumming Me Out come rushing back as the band relives the election on the title track, once again. As Sowash warbles “When you told me the bad news / I threw up a little on my shoes / What you said has got me down / And I don’t know what to tell you now…” the emotion within his vocals hit home for a majority of the population. There is a feeling of despair that seems unshakeable, with the gloom filling the void until something better comes along.
I’m Busy shakes the peevish sentiment of the preceding number and kicks it square in the ass, with the band stepping on the accelerator from the opening note. The protagonist is giving clear warning signs that everyone needs to back-off and chill out. He needs his space, getting it as the band slows the pace momentarily before coming back in with their throttles shoved to the afterburner setting.
Sowash relates the very real saga of his experiences as both a musician and talent buyer in Etiquette. Although there are many bands that follow the unwritten code of live performances, there are some that just don’t get it. He calls out that segment of the scene and lets them have it with both barrels. In the opinion of this writer, justifiably so. “You’re the first band / You don’t get an encore…” hits home, for sure.
Captain Particular ramps the pace back into overdrive with a driving beat and lyrics that speak to my own life-long battle with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Although I’m not as anal retentive as the subject of the song appear to be, Sowash penned a tune that I very easily relate to.
The pace is turned down just a skosh as they launch into Cinnamon Challenge. But when your amplifiers all go to 11, the scintilla in difference is indistinguishable. They stay true to their indie rock roots on this rocket that clocks in at under two minutes.
The timbre and tempo of Sowash’s vocals on Stay Home, integrated with the band’s merry sonic trip through the early 90’s indie rock sounds make for a number that juxtaposes a happy melody with a woeful tale of “Why even bother?” You’re left wondering if the lyrics are truly telling you to just give up. I doubt it, citing the humorous tongue-in-cheek songs that Sowash has given us over the last 13 years.
The penultimate track, Blueberry Beret, brings together two celebutantes of the local music scene in Ron House (frontman for Great Plains / Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments) and Lizard McGee (vocals/guitar for Earwig). With a vibe that channels Prince’s Raspberry Beret, Sowash weaves a fictional tale centered around House and McGee. You can’t help but want to tap your toes and sing along with the tune’s upbeat groove.
They bring the pace and the tone down for the final track, That’s How They Get Ya, assuring a calm landing. While his vocals carry an almost dirge-like tempo, Sowash still manages to bring his humor to the forefront, closing the album with a chuckle.
The Kyle Sowashes have mastered the art of having a “sloppiness” to their sound, while retaining a tight-woven vibe and groove. The overriding feeling one gets when the final track is over is that Kyle Sowash is unapologetic. He writes rock songs that are at once cerebral, and yet so hook-laden that they become instant earworms.
If this is Sowash at forty, I’m curious to see what twists and turns his songwriting takes over the next five to ten years. It should be a very interesting ride. Just remember to turn the volume up.
- Washed Up
- Bottled Up
- Bowling Ball
- Bumming Me Out
- Not All Heroes Wear Capes
- You Can Do It
- I Don’t Know What To Tell You
- I’m Busy
- Captain Particular
- Cinnamon Challenge
- Stay Home
- Blueberry Beret
- That’s How They Get Ya
The Kyle Sowashes – Bowling Ball
The Kyle Sowashes discography:
“Only Time Will Tell” cassingle (self-released, 2006)
The Kyle Sowashes 7-inch EP (Manup, 2006)
What’s Important (and What’s Not) CD (Bettawreckonize, 2006)
“Vanilla Clown” split 7-inch single with Solyoni (Manup, 2007)
Yeah Buddy! CD (We Want Action, 2008)
Nobody LP/CD (Anyway, 2010)
Somebody LP+CD/digital (Anyway, 2012)
Everybody LP+CD/digital (Anyway, 2015)
I Don’t Know What To Tell You LP/CD (Anyway, 2019)