Review of New God's Debut Album "Motorcar" PDF Print E-mail
Arts and Leisure - Arts and Leisure
Written by Mike Shumaker   
Wednesday, 07 December 2011 21:31

Frostburg resident, musician, and producer Kenny Tompkins has been actively involved in making and performing local music for many years now. He has certainly established himself as having a unique, perhaps even avant-garde, approach and ear for music. Tompkins is, or has been, involved in many projects throughout the last decade. The Christmas Lights and Royal Army Recording Co. are just a fraction of his intensive work and dedication to both local music and individual expression using sound and language. Having departed from The Christmas Lights, Tompkins has yet again decided to restructure and reformat his music into a new ensemble as the front man as well as sonic and lyrical engineer of the band, New God.

The debut release from New God, entitled, “Motorcar” is now officially available for purchase through most online music outlets such as iTunes and Amazon, or directly from the website dedicated to the album, The ‘official’ release of the album was November 29, but Tompkins’ New God gospel has been streaming on the site, in entirety, for about a month prior to its release. A great feature of the “Motorcar” specific website is the variety of packages available to obtain the album, and other fringe benefits Tompkins offers – including original artwork and the video for the album’s title and single “Motorcar”, among other things – certainly worth checking out.

After listening to the album, I felt compelled to speak with Tompkins personally and ask some questions I had pertaining to “Motorcar”, New God, and the process of how it all came together. Graciously, Tompkins agreed, and helped me view the work from the perspective of its primary creator – and talking with Tompkins is also simply good conversation about all things music as well. The thing is, I essentially dealt with the moral dilemma of presenting both objective and subjective accounts on the music in which, I couldn’t identify any flaws whatsoever – fearing that confirmation bias would reflect poorly not so much on the music, but in my interpretation of it. Having a bit of a quirky taste in music sometimes, I considered the possibility of the album having such an impact on me based on the new, novelty aspect of any new piece of music that a person enjoys. Perhaps, subconsciously, I wanted to give “Motorcar” a brief test of time – to give my initial excitement and praise of the music a chance to do one of two things: flourish or fade. Now, in retrospect, I have listened to “Motorcar”, in my estimation, upwards of 50 times over the last month. I now feel absolutely confident, and even proud, to offer my review of New God’s debut album, as each new listen confirms my original suspicion: This album is the best, most well-rounded, engaging, fun, inspiring, and impressionable album that has emerged from, and into, the very expansive and diverse music scene in Western Maryland.

Bold statement? Sure, absolutely. Unsubstantiated? Well, that depends on your taste certainly, yet in a purely subjective sense, to me this is bound to be a ‘classic’ release that Frostburg should take great pride in. “Motorcar” has a justified place right beside “Sgt. Peppers”, “OK Computer”, “Nevermind”, “Pet Sounds” - you get the idea. Obviously not in relation to record sales or international appraisal, but rather in the quality, variety, and transcending nature, well yes. What Tompkins has accomplished in producing and writing “Motorcar” is a relatively short, perfectly paced progression of intertwined tracks that somehow blend, blur, and bend an assortment of genres, styles, musical techniques and structures – all while maintaining accessibility to the average listener through the pop-rock sensibilities, yet reaching beyond any definable catch-all audience. This allows even the most eclectic and picky listeners – such as myself – to remain engaged throughout. Point being, “Motorcar” is a collection of nine tracks that transcend any particular demographic of passionate music lovers. November saw me streaming the album constantly. In that month, I danced with my cousin’s eight-year-old daughter enthusiastically, and heard praise from my father regarding the merit of the album. This is a rare occurrence for me, and the fact that such a great piece of musical integrity has emerged from my local community actually gives me a sense of local patriotism towards the arts – something that was there all along, but with the release of “Motorcar” I can finally pick it up, hold it in my hand, and objectively see and hear the amazing creation Tompkins put together.

The process in which “Motorcar” formed, according to Tompkins, “was out of continual songwriting and picking and choosing certain songs for certain projects and these specific songs – there was a time, probably in 2008 when the bulk of them got written across the span of maybe a couple months, and then other additions were made over many years, really relaxed about it, letting it sit and simmer. I just keep working on it until it made a certain sense to me and I felt like it was something that would translate to someone else”. Such was the case in my preparation to review the album, letting it simmer in the brain, and giving it a chance to make a lasting impression rather than a first impression was important to me. In order to convey this seemingly over optimistic and encouraging take on “Motorcar” and its value, I’ll now try my best to relate the impossible experiential process of listening to it through words – and this is not easy, but important nonetheless.

The album starts with a church gospel chanting over the blips and bleeps of digital drums. It’s a great combination that foreshadows the entire album: using different sonic methods that may not traditionally fit. “I try to put multiple elements of sounds that I don’t think have been combined before” Tompkins stated, and with respect to various musical platforms and mediums he goes on to say, “… I like all kinds of artistic mediums and I don’t prefer [any one over the other] I’ve had the opportunity to record on crappy tape recorders and I’ve had the opportunity to record on wonderful sounding digital high end gear, and all different kinds of mediums and I’ve liked the means of all of them”. The tracks are perfectly placed, as the first three tracks blend together dozens of rock/pop/jazz/sock/hop sounds that fit together seamlessly. The lyrics beg your thought, but on your own terms. There is no obvious, objective emotion they attempt to squeeze out of you. This is a great literary voice to have, and these are probably the best lyrics that Tompkins’ has penned. We have all in some way, “took a chance on a grinning devil”. I’m doing that right now, incredibly ironic too in that this devil also “locks the prison doors”. I only wish that I too, “ had a chance to cut out his tongue, but he was singing such a pretty song”. This is just a singular example of how Tompkins speaks to me personally, without even trying to or even realizing it. The album is filled with lyrics that provoke a deep thought, but not in way that forces itself upon each listen. From a literary perspective, I liken this skill with that of a great novelist. This is a value that Coldplay has managed to miss, but New God has it and runs with it all day long. Along with the subtle themes are equally compelling abstract ideas, in several instances alongside the more evident ideas. I’ve never witnessed the amazing sight of a women as, “she came up through the dirt”, but within a psychedelic spin that gets faster, heavier, deeper and fuller, I can’t help but try to imagine it. The lyrical abstractions fit the sonic arrangement in a way that only a creator (i.e., a New God – pun very much intended) with careful, and tasteful eyes and ears can envision. “Motorcar” drives really nice all the way through, and provides a great tour of styles in a way that I have not heard before. That is what impresses me the most about this album. Transcending any specific audience is the hallmark of great artwork – a quality in which, even despite great differences, largely diverse people can come together to enjoy it.

“Motorcar” is short in length when compared to most albums. Without worrying over whether this is an LP or EP, I want to highlight that this conciseness fits the bill for the work extremely well. Remember those old, classic Beatles songs that may clock in at two minutes but somehow, miraculously ‘feel’ much longer? That is exactly how the entire album, in its entirety, relates upon the listener and the uninterrupted, seamless flow from each track to the next provides this rare, inexplicable ability. This has been achieved in many finely crafted Beatles songs, but an entire album that works with this premise is quite rare. This, I feel, is very important to the nature of the piece – as it is not only accessible throughout, but deserves the attention from start to finish, without the need to touch your stereo, mp3 player, etc. except, perhaps, to turn up the volume. There is no need to shuffle through and find favorite tracks, as they all work together. When listening to “Motorcar”, invariably the entire album can be digested in full listen after listen. I would argue that jumping around from one track to the next will actually take away from the experience as a whole – as this collection of songs is more like one extended and ever-shifting track than a collection of them.

On “Motorcar”, highlights include: the first nine tracks, with the best instrumentation being the first 30-something minutes. Yes, the entire album – enthusiastic sarcasm on my part. It is that good, and I almost see it as a gift to every Frostburg rock, pop, punk, junk, sock, hop, whatever fan – this album is for you, my friend! I asked Tompkins if he dedicated it to me personally – as a joke, of course – but hidden with some truth at the same time. New God is no flavor of the day, week, or year - the blending of styles, smart and swift dynamic changes, and angelic harmonies permeate the very idea of an ‘era’ or ‘generation’. It’s catchy without the self-indulgence or pretentiousness that paradoxically is often what often makes things “catchy” in the first place. This isn’t the case with “Motorcar” though, it is not simply catchy on a singular level – a danceable, timely complex drumbeat may stand out on one listen, the guitar(s) on another listen. The instrumentation from each angle is unique, but collective. This is a pretty hard thing to do for 30-plus minutes without a moment of boredom. “Motorcar” doesn’t bore for a second, yet doesn’t overwhelm or challenge you to like it.

 It is a difficult task to point out specific elements of “Motorcar” that make the record so charming – as each note, and the spaces between, all have their respective value. Vocal harmonies, thick and sweet as honey, fill tracks with a fullness that no physical instrument ever could. “Room in Arizona” takes the listener to a French acid-jazz cocktail lounge where Stereolab could easily be New God’s opening act. Then, before you know it, you find yourself pushed back to Frostburg with a sharp dynamic change into “Off and On” with punchy guitars that hit hard enough to bruise, but never quite knock you out. A single trumpet followed by a lonely, ‘Ahhhh…’ announces the arrival of “Moon God”, where the choir is quick to follow the leader in a supportive sullen moan of unknown distress, with a backdrop of static white noise and extraterrestrial soundscapes that bring a sense of complexity to an otherwise minimalist track. As the next song, “The Governor’s Lap” begins; the listener realizes the ‘crying shame’ that the previous track foreshadowed – using sound and harmony alone to imitate a literary theme miraculously woven without any words, but with mood and tone. New God doesn’t let you sit in his lap for too long though, and before you know it you are roasting marshmallows around a campfire with an acoustic guitar and happy go lucky whistle. This is where, ready or not, you inevitably join in the sing-along of “Happiness” – the finale, where Tompkins, one by one, encourages the rest of New God’s cast to join him with both voice and instrument, building up stronger and stronger over a phrase that sums up the certain uncertainty that is “Motorcar”: ‘I don’t know what happiness is, I just know I want to find it’. Musically and lyrically it is a smooth, hopeful conclusion to the album. I am left feeling Tompkins’ last impressionable, and universal sentiment – and ironically, with these last words, a feeling of satisfaction and happiness permeates within.

A perfect ending to a cumulatively far and deep reaching album that never drifts too far from convention, nor drifting too far into the unknown – rather a perfect balance that keeps you centered as New God gives you a brief, audio tour of many styles and sounds. Tompkins explains to me what I experienced myself listening to “Motorcar”, regarding strategically placed tracks, stating, “I think the order of songs gives an ark of conflict in what the words are saying and it does come to a humble resolution. I also think the, “ark of conflict” applies to the music itself accordingly. I will, however, take this opportunity to correct him, as I feel ‘humble’ describes the creator more than the actual creation itself: “Motorcar” is an ambitious sonic masterpiece that deserves not only undivided attention and repeated listens, but also a place in any well-stocked collection of audio art.  Tompkins built a solid, self-sustaining ride, so I implore you: jump in and take her for a spin!

Although I give Kenny Tompkins credit in this article, the collective effort of New God as a whole cannot be ignored. Tompkins certainly gets by with a little help from his friends, with the entire cast consisting of:

Kenny Tompkins – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keys, Samples

Curt Tompkins – Drums, Trumpet, Choir

Adam Laye – Guitar, Noise, Choir

Josh Grapes – Bass, Keys, Choir

Court Manley – Trombone, Percussion

Dave Tracey – Guitar

Jon Felton – Choir

Mike Nau – Choir

The album release shows for Kenny Tompkins’ “Motorcar” and Jon Felton’s Soulmobile, "Life Everlasting," are taking place Friday, December 9 at Mountain City Traditional Arts (25 E Main St., Frostburg)  at 6:30 p.m. (with more details available here) and at Dante's Bar (16 W Main St., Frostburg) at 10:00 p.m. (Ed. Note: the Mountain City Traditinal Arts show is all-ages and Dante's show is 21 and older).

Come out and show your support and appreciation for local music and artists!!!

Comments (1)
Motorcar Review..
Friday, 31 August 2012 07:57
Was thinking maybe it was just me!
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