When Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground hit the scene in 2007 after punk group, Gatsby’s American Dream, took a hiatus, they lit up my musical radar and caused “Hey Momma” to repeat on my iPod for a week straight. Keyboardist Kyle O’Quin had me questioning why the hell he ever even made the transparent, power-chord rock of Gatsby’s. Notoriety? Easy money? Great friends he couldn’t deny? The ragtime, jazz-infused pop of Kay’s Kay’s self-titled debut seemed like a practical joke on the Absolute Punk community. There was no way these guys were former members of the post-hardcore genre of the early 2000s.
O’Quin and Kirk Huffman (the pioneers of the giant 10- to 12-piece band) weren’t joking, though. This was the music they’d had up their sleeves all along: Scott Joplin-influenced piano pop accompanied by tuba, cello, trumpet and flugelhorn. When Huffman ever uttered the words, “Hey Momma, I’m such a selfish bastard,” as he kept the tempo of a 1940s lounge singer, I seriously wondered if the two had hired a ghostwriter. The instrumentation was too phenomenal.
Eventually, though, surprise became acceptance, and I realized these guys were for real, and three years later, Introducing… has had to follow up that fantastic display of circus tricks. This time around, Kay Kay lay off the bombastic music and instead apply more chilled-out, mellow tunes, and the change does the band justice. This sophomore effort is a much more engaging experience for those unfamiliar with the Seattle natives. Whereas their debut tended to overkill the drastic breakdowns and stop-on-a-dime-and-change-tempo mentality, Introducing… plays as a much more straightforward album with great background accompaniment. The opening track, “Sweet Strange Dreams”, starts off with a slow burn, but eventually gives a taste of the ragtime pop for which Kay Kay are known, but the next song, “You Motherfuckers”, resembles a country hoedown, while single, “Diggin’”, sounds like something Ben Folds Five would have written while attempting to mimic the breakdown halfway through “A Day in the Life”.
From there, though, the album starts to level out, save for the finale, “My Friends All Passed Out”, which could fit right in with their debut LP. “Paycheck and Pipedreams” has that same circus melody that defines Kay Kay, but it’s much more tightened and fine-tuned, using all the background noises exactly for their purpose: background noise. This time, the band doesn’t go insane for the sake of sounding insane but instead build layered melodies in the vein of a sedated Man Man.
Lyrically, Huffman is still stuck on the same ideas from a few years ago: urban discontent with a lack of money, struggling to find one’s place in life, and, of course, love. You can’t knock him for it, though, because he’s merely reflecting the sentiment of this young generation as he rants, “A stone’s throw from homeless is exactly where I am.” I mean, can anyone not identify with that in this economy? Huffman stays focused on theme too, beginning with the lyrics, “We’re not concerned with the passing of hours / Or warring super powers / And honestly I can’t think of any place I’d rather be,” as he calls out the American mentality that’s taken “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” way too literally. Then by the final tune, he comes full circle: “From paycheck to paycheck / Working more and living less / Cause if you’re lucky just like me / We can pass out before it drives us crazy.” Introducing… could just as well be parenthesized as “The American psyche according to Kirk Huffman.”
Though the ragtime antics of Kay Kay’s original LP aren’t as prominent here, fans will still be treated to a band hard at work in a genre that’s difficult to pin down. Huffman and O’Quin mix jazz-infused piano pop with alt-country, as well as a take a stab at ethereal, Indian-influenced percussion on a singular track, and isn’t that something that sounds just a tiny bit enticing?