King Creosote

Astronaut Meets Appleman

King Creosote, aka Kenny Anderson, returns with his new album Astronaut Meets Appleman, the follow up to 2014’s critically acclaimed From Scotland with Love and the Mercury nominated Diamond Mine, his 2011 collaboration with Jon Hopkins. Soon to enter his fiftieth year, Anderson’s prolific output shows no sign of waning: after 60 albums and around 800 songs (this being a conservative estimate) he is already planning his next album, working on new tracks with his band up in his native Fife.

Astronaut Meets Appleman explores the tensions and unity between tradition and modernity, the old and new, as King Creosote ultimately tries to figure out exactly where he figures. Borne out of an anxiety with social media and technology, the album harks back to a time free from the internet and the incessant subjectivity it brings – a time when children tangibly enjoy the landscape around them rather than watch it through a mobile phone. It was Creosote’s own baby daughter, Louie Wren, who helped to inspire the album’s title when she was more taken with a toy man made out of an apple than she was with a slick toy astronaut. It ultimately became the album’s metaphor.

The exquisite opening track ‘You Just Want’ explores this conflict by combining digital and analogue approaches to recording, with the song ultimately finding a sonic harmony somewhere between the two. The first part was recorded analogue after just one or two takes, reminiscent of Creosote’s early days in a stripped-back, busker-style bluegrass band where performances were rarely planned. Ultimately looking for something longer, however, KC opts to loop the middle of the track using digital methods. Described as a seven-minute piece of hymnal drone-pop, it eventually marries the old and the new flawlessly, but the song’s dark, hymn-like tones alludes to the complexities of doing so.

‘Betelgeuse’, probably the album’s standout track, is made in a similar vein: recorded part live in the studio, part via mobile phone, digital and analogue methods drive the song musically in tandem. “My ship has set course for the space in between”, he sings, again seemingly yearning for a medium that strides two worlds: on this stargazing track in particular, the reflective tone reveals a more philosophical side to King Creosote as he approaches his half-century. “The whole theme of the album is harking back to better days. I’m thinking have I done the right thing, have I made the right choices? I’m going to hit 50 and it’s a milestone and all these questions are in there.”

The album is as noticeable for its quieter moments — its “renewed sense of letting the music breathe”, something which enables his excellent band (many of whom were involved with From Scotland With Love) to take centre stage — as anything. On the beautiful philharmonic lament ‘Faux Call’, he sings “it’s the silence that somehow says it all”; an idea carried through to the beautifully endearing ‘Peter Rabbit Tea’, where the youngest and newest member of the band, Louie Wren, appears. It seems as though KC is looking back to a quieter and more innocent time for the answers he needs – is he the astronaut or the appleman?

Arriving at the studio with half-songs and ideas, Creosote and the band have more or less busked the album, figuring out the arrangements without the rigidity of prior planning. In looking back to the more innocent songwriting style of his youth, KC finds new freedom: “I wanted to push myself song writing-wise, so I went in with hardly any anything and had to wing it. I wanted to try and flip the clock all the way back to sound like a younger me – or a less cynical me. In the past, I’ve been fixated on twisting and wrenching every line, but here I’ve let that go a bit, and I hope that lets you concentrate on the music; on what’s going on around it.”

The result is a King Creosote who has, for once, decided to go a little bit easier on himself. Known for his candid self-depreciation (“I’m the worst in the band” he recently told me in an interview), KC has let go a little, allowing his accomplished songwriting and music-making to speak for itself. His ability to write stunning couplets is well intact as seen on ‘Love Life’ and the crestfallen lullaby ‘Rules of Engagement’. He also seems more at ease with his extensive back-catalogue, recycling songs such as ‘Faux Call’, a trait he no doubt gleaned from Hopkins following their 2011 collaboration.

The landscape is also still very much at the heart of Creosote’s music, now stretching further than his native Fife: “I wanted to get out of the usual places”, he says, recording the album variously in County Down, the Isle of Mull and Glasgow, giving the album a gloriously Celtic feel. Yet ‘Melin Wynt’ (Welsh for ‘windmill’) reveals yet another conflict – one with the landscape responsible for inspiring so much of his work to date. On his way to Festival Number 6 with his band, KC stopped off to explore a place he thought was famous for its windmills, Melin Wynt. Instead he found “a regiment of wind-turbines, War-of-the-Worlds like and Dalek-esque” at odds with the beautiful landscape before him. Described as a “lilting bagpipe-techno odyssey” it is much more upbeat musically than ‘You Just Want’. Lyrically, however, it’s a crestfallen lament on lost landscapes and nature, its protagonist upset at the disorientation technology can create.

Astronaut Meets Appleman might very well be King Creosote’s masterpiece. It is at once ethereal and contemplative, grounded and matter-of-fact. Moments of star-like wonder sit alongside earthy mystery and misery as it simultaneously creates and resolves conflicts in the self, the landscape and the universe. The old is used to understand the new, and whilst the digital and the modern may cause anxiety and fear, it’s in the beauty of the landscape and the innocent of ourselves that Creosote finds the answers he needs.

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