Kevin Keller’s Shimmering Beauty

Shimmer Cover

Longtime followers of me on Progarchy know that I am a huge fan of musician/composer Kevin Keller (See my earlier posts here and here.) Keller’s extraordinary The Front Porch Of Heaven was one of my favorite albums of 2020. I call it extraordinary, because he recorded it in the aftermath of having open heart surgery, and it is an aural odyssey of his experience.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Keller is set to release a new album, Shimmer on September 17, 2021. It continues his winning streak and illustrates Keller’s remarkable ability to write and record consistently excellent “ambient chamber music”. The interesting twist to Shimmer is that it is Keller’s response to the RPM Challenge, where musicians try to record an entire album from start to finish in the 28 days of February. As he wrote the songs, Keller solicited feedback from his fans on social media, and incorporated their suggestions into the compositions. The result is a surprisingly cohesive and organic-feeling collection of tracks.

The first song, Orchards, kicks things off with a bouncy piano riff that is reminiscent of Minimalist masters such as Steve Reich or John Adams. It’s an energetic track that allows a beautiful melody to develop on top of the rhythmic foundation. One of Keller’s strengths is his tasteful deployment of analog synthesizers, and Shimmer as a whole is a perfect example of that strength. While the piano is the lead instrument on most tracks, the synths provide a bed of ambience that support and enhance the songs, not overwhelm them.

Inverness, the second song, is one of my favorites. It begins with a slow, stately theme that is almost Enoesque in its simplicity and builds, note-by-note, into a fine melody that picks up steam until it fills the soundstage completely. There are subtle bass tones that are almost below the threshold of hearing (at least my threshold!), and they add much power to the song. After the music reaches an emotional crescendo, it gradually tapers off into the ether.

The third track is also the title track, and the best phrase to describe is, well, shimmeringly beautiful. It is a 10-minute small masterpiece of restraint. Keller uses every second to carefully develop the composition before the listener’s ears. Over a simple piano ostinato, some wordless female vocals float angelically, as more musical motifs enter, courtesy of woodwind-like synths. Eventually, some more propulsive elements take over, as the piano playing responds energetically. At the 7:15 mark, the party winds down, and the final couple of minutes are devoted to a graceful, spacier recapitulation of the main theme. I could listen to Shimmer all day on repeat and never tire of it.

“Side Two” opens with Bridges, a fine example of Keller’s ability to craft a gorgeous melody. Bridges is 21st century romanticism at its best: it conveys a wistful longing without a hint of saccharine sentimentality. And just as the listener is getting lost in its beauty, it’s gone.

Ithaca is a very ambient, spacey track with synth strings playing extended notes under a delicate theme played on virtual piano. There is a sense of hushed anticipation to this track; you have to listen closely to even hear the theme. 

Riverbend, at 8:50, is the second longest song. It brings to my mind classic Tangerine Dream (think Risky Business soundtrack) with its insistent, burbling synths. It eventually develops into quite a majestic piece of music.

Shimmer closes with Delta, which is the most “traditional” sounding song on the album. A virtual piano plays the main theme, which is picked up by various analog synths. The production builds until the final minute, when a lone synth plays a variation on the theme into the fadeout.

Shimmer is another triumph for Kevin Keller, who is one of the most talented musician/composers working today. It is even more remarkable, considering he wrote and recorded the entire album by himself in a mere 28 days. The production is outstanding, and Keller’s masterful use of analog synthesizers lends a warmth and intimacy to his music that many other electronic artists simply can’t achieve. 

Shimmer will be released on both CD and vinyl. You can preorder it here. If you appreciate intelligent, well-crafted music that straddles the boundary between melodic ambient and classical music, then there is no other artist who creates more satisfying work than Kevin Keller.

You can preview the album here: https://soundcloud.com/kevin_keller/sets/rpm-2021-new-album

 

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