Widescreen debut from Toronto singer/songwriter Kyle Stephens. Dreaming is encouraged
Release Date: 23rd September 2022
Label: Self release
Formats: Cd, Vinyl, Download, Streaming
By the time he’d reached his mid-twenties, Kyle Stephens had had enough of music. “I was going to shows and standing at the back of the room having a beer and being grumpy,” he says. “I didn’t want to hang out with anyone. I wanted to go home. I wasn’t playing in bands anymore, I stopped writing. I took some time away, a much-needed musical sabbatical.” Well – it seems like that sabbatical did the Toronto singer/songwriter a power of good – definitely so, if it was the respite that allowed him to come up the nine engrossing songs that make up his debut album, Considering Every Change.
Considering Every Change is a work of rare and well-crafted beauty. It’s an intimate album that owes not a small debt to Robin Pecknold and Fleet Foxes. Alongside his clear, honeyed vocals – perhaps THE signature sound of the album – Kyle plays 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, bass, piano and percussion, and he’s helped along by producer Jonas Bonnetta, who alongside his triumphant production skills has added vocals, piano, mellotron, synths, percussion and harmonica. And the result is stunning; alternately sparse and unbelievably rich, subtle, never overplayed and with that voice always taking pole position. Kyle’s songs are mature, comfortable and marvelously dreamy; this is music that encourages the listener to lie back and drift along to wherever the musical currents are headed – and it’s not always where you would expect.
The album’s title track gets the show on the road and, in the process, casts the die for the treats to come. Strummed acoustic guitars, nice electric guitar fills, hissing cymbals and sudden crescendos all lend credence to the inevitable Fleet Foxes comparisons and, throughout, that wonderful voice is a constant presence.
And so it goes on – When it Comes (In Time) is a sweet, dreamy tune, garnished with sprinkles of acoustic guitar and driven along by a relentless drumbeat. There’s lots going on behind the vocal lead, too, with piano nibbles, blasts of synth and the occasional crash of electric guitar all adding to a fascinating bedrock. Lead single, Golden Light, Gentle Eyes starts life as pastoral folky number but builds satisfyingly as electric guitars move in.
Kyle gives vent to his full vocal range on the adventurous It Must Be You – another slow-builder the evolves from a folk song into something that is almost orchestral in sound. The album’s raison d’être – giving the listener the space to sit back and dream – is satisfied particularly on Variations, the album’s only instrumental track. Soft percussion and rhythmic piano notes provide the foundation for one of those guitar solos that actively encourage your mind to float to wherever it wishes to go – think Zappa’s Watermelon in Easter Hay, and you won’t be far off the mark!
And the encouragement to dream and drift along continues with the lovely On Open Water, an evocative ballad with some beautiful vocal harmonies, resonant bass and delightful sprinklings of electric guitar and piano. On the surface, the song seems to have a conventional structure, but it never quite goes where you’d expect it to, particularly when it cuts over to the spacy piano improvisation.
Perhaps my favourite track on this outstanding album is Slow Changing Seasons – a wonderful song with Kyle’s vocal at its very best and an imaginative instrumental arrangement that switches the sound from sparse, to rich, and back again. It’s the album’s secret earworm! The Fleet Foxes comparison is, perhaps, most vivid on Little Mountain, another great song, packed with thunderous bass, multi-part harmonies, some great twangy guitar, an interesting pedal steel effect and some lovely backing vocals from guest Caylie Runciman. But, all too quickly, that brings us to the album’s closing track, and – perhaps – its centrepiece, In My Element, In Spring. It starts life as a contemplative folk song but builds spectacularly as, first, a flute effect, then ‘strings,’ lead up to the entry of the full band. It’s a tune that, to my ears at least, blends the best of James Taylor, Pink Floyd and Laura Nyro into a tasty concoction. In My Element, In Spring is a song that you’ll want to hear over and over. Considering Every Change is an album that you’ll want to hear regularly, for a long time to come.
Watch the official video to Golden Light, Gentle Eyes – the album’s lead single – here: