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Born Under A Fateful Sign – The April Seven’s “Pop Tarkovsky”

The April Seven
Pop Tarkovsky

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Don’t know about you, but for us here at SEM, when a message from Stephen Hero, AKA Patrick Fitzgerald, the primary plumber and pipe-fitter in Kitchens of Distinction, pops up in your inbox, we perk up, ears all a-twitch. We hold all calls, put “The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule” or some other timeless KoD cut on the office stereo, turn it up and read every word with great anticipation. And when said message also happens to include mention of a new collaboration with singer Paul Frederick from the Family Cat, a band contemporaneous with the Kitchens and sorely underrated by our lights, well, there’s no shame in admitting that a prickle of excitement runs up our collective spine.

Thus it was a few weeks ago as we pledged in our response to cover the product of this newly-minted project – a debut album entitled Pop Tarkovsky credited to The April Seven, so-named due a providential sharing of exact birth dates between both principals – the moment we could clear the review schedule and thank the fates that day has at last arrived. So, please, silence your cellphones, the review is about to begin…

Take the brilliant, lightning-flashed emotionalism of this:


blend it with the slyly pugnacious joy of this:


marinate it in the sweet ravages of time – maturity’s blessed seasoning and all that – and you arrive in the rarefied environs carved from the pop-song equivalent of basalt, alabaster, and gold. Not unexpectedly, given the pair involved, a certain austerity obtains, albeit one striated by an imperishable verve that has flickered and flashed through both their work since those noble days in the indie hinterlands (in truth it was always far more interesting out there) and that has quite evidently never faded. Yes perhaps their shared perspective has acquired a ruminative edge – these songs seem to peer out at the landscape with that flinty-eyed squint of wisdom that comes from surviving the many and various slings and arrows into your sixth decade – but it’s no less luminous. Never for a moment do we dip into the maudlin. Even at Pop Tarkovsky‘s most reflective we have a lively record on our hands.

The distribution of essential tasks here came down to the simple assignment of words to Frederick – he’d be the one singing them, after all – and the music in all its multivalent layering to Fitzgerald. The arrangement clearly suits them both (being freed of vocal duties was especially liberating to Patrick, we’re told) and the dividends are manifold. This is a marriage made in pop heaven.

“Witch’s Hour” at the very top sifts veil upon veil with, well, a bewitching ease, the bright liquid glimmer of a gently reverbed electric piano bedded inside the sough of a rising synth before we tumble into the relaxed gait of the song proper, where a flangeing guitar phases in and out in light psychy sync with a harmonica, itself woven into the mix with a reedy avant-pop mischief. It’s a piece of smooth, unsettling pop that manages the sleight-of-ear trick of being both languid and busy and cannot fail to intrigue. You will, as is said, be inexorably drawn in.

“Benedictine,” aside from proving how a piano run can go from dewy soft to jaw-dropping drama at the drop of a hand, might well be Pop Tark‘s most seamless melding of the two artists’ sensibilities, Frederick wringing emotional resonance out of something as banal as tourist trap tchotchkes (“tiny Eiffel Towers and a model of the Rosetta Stone love letters written in languages I’ve never known…places I’ll never go“) in a way not unfamiliar to fans of the Kitchens’ work, not least 2013’s glowing comeback album Folly. Beyond its stark unadorned beauty, a better semblance of that fusion of still-fervent yearning with the stoic sigh of acceptance that most of lived life lies behind you would be difficult to imagine. Then of course the torch gets passed to the likes of “Platform Shoes.”

Though a healthy run of contenders clamor for (deserved) kudos both up and down the tracklist – the beauteous pop glare of “Commandant, Commisar,” “How the Satellite”‘s swirling enamor that’s Cattish enough of lyric and KoD enough in structure to be attributed to The Family Kitchens, the dark piano-heavy romanticism of “Love, You Fool” that could be a balladeering John Cage in a Leonard Cohen state of mind (and this isn’t mentioning those already mentioned) – it’s “Platform Shoes,” one feels, that most lucidly captures the gist of what this partnership was aiming for and in fact could be argued is the reason fate brought the two together, let alone had them born on the same day.

A poignant, warmly-conflicted paean to the singer’s – and, little doubt, Fitzgerald’s – glam-awkward adolescence, one can scarcely think of a finer or more powerful distillation of that peculiar emotional symbiosis that exists between those now-distant flagrancies of behavior that make up those hazy bright halcyon memories and the need of their aging owner to keep them ever alive. Emerging chrysalis-like from inside an intro of burgeoning restraint, Frederick, set against an aching bassline and a minor-chord piano pattern, sings with a plaintive force that over the course of the song escalates up the emotional ladder from someone calmly giving narrative verse to the images flashing past as the scrapbook pages turn, to a man possessed by the howling wraiths of his own reminiscence, booming between the poles of longing and wonder like he can barely believe the enchanted dimensions of his own past, how all that boyish innocence was wholly wrapped up as it was in such a daring effort to escape it. “Platform Shoes” so unabashedly embraces remembrances’ sweet sadness – the shadows they cast undiminished even as they fall forever further behind us – it’s difficult to separate the winsome melancholy from the youthful glory, they both swell up and crash together in a kind of rapturous unison. As well I’ll tell you this: when Paul Frederick gets a hold of a phrase it is summarily owned. If you don’t get a paralyzing wave of chills when he lets loose with and repeats the line “I blew myself away” then you’re assuredly reading the wrong magazine. Doesn’t hurt that that crescendo is reached on the back of Fitzgerald peeling off of a guitar progression as viscerally emotive as anything he ever conjured in Kitchens of Distinction which, if you’re even passingly familiar with their catalog, you know is saying something. It seems to set the track – and the singer – afire, and however and to what extent it affects anyone else, I’ll personally be forever grateful for the unexpected arrival of that message those few weeks ago.

While virtually impossible not to wax rhapsodic from inside the throes of that one cut, the fact is “Platform Shoes”‘ stirring dynamics, its gently protean blend of the intimate with the universal as it unpacks the myriad tensions that have acted on and nourished our psyche in ways that have gone largely unnoticed, and, perhaps more than anything, the manner in which it takes whatever measures necessary to get to where it’s imperative it get to without feeling the need to grab our attention with some immediate dazzle (like most enduring records, patience is its own reward here), could all be held in equal parallel to the album as a whole.

Were it possible to triangulate a musical compass point between the seamless alliance of Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge (Gonwards et al) and the deeply earnest valedictory pop of Pete Astor on this year’s magnificent Spilt Milk, this record is the place you’d find yourself. Indeed the vectors as they’ve converged into the making of this piece of work are enough to find us reconsidering our skepticism regarding the concept of predetermination. Certainly if proof were ever needed that in those rare moments the stars do in fact align, Pop Tarkovsky is exhibit A.

[Pop Tarkovsky available digitally here. We’re going to try and talk them in to making more CDs since they sold out in a blink]