Saturday, March 26, 2016

Chad Perrone - Kaleidoscope

“Is there anything more important than a breakup record?”

That line opened one of my favorite music reviews ever, a 2008 five-star write-up of Butch Walker’s Sycamore Meadows. The review in question, written by Dave de Sylvia of, has since mysteriously disappeared from the web, but that line still resonates with me many years later, and albums like Chad Perrone’s Kaleidoscope are the reason why. Records like this one, or like Sycamore Meadows, comfort us in our darkest times, save our lives, and give us the will to carry on. For many of us, they end up being the most important albums in the world.

Perrone, for his part, has been a master of writing perfect breakup songs for years. First with his band, Averi, and later with his solo material, Perrone has established himself as arguably the single best-kept secret in the entire music industry, and he’s done it primarily by penning anthems of exquisite pain. Fascinatingly, Kaleidoscope is perhaps his most emotional record to date. Born out of a broken engagement and a period of frustrating writer’s block, this record sparks with unresolved emotional turmoil. Even listeners who have been fans of Perrone in the past may be caught off guard with the singer’s unbridled honestly here, because he doesn’t hold anything back. Case-in-point is “Minor Letdowns,” Kaleidoscope’s melodically glorious opening track, which leaps right into the fray. “We loved so hard, but that’s not enough to stay” Perrone cries on the chorus, the relationship with the woman he loves fracturing right in front of our eyes.

That song also contains the most emotionally frank bridge of the entire year (“One year removed, can you believe where we were?/Looking back brings this pain in my chest/Play the tape all the way to the end/Instead of playing just the parts that I loved best”), an astounding lyric that will resonate with just about anyone who has ever loved and lost. That moment when you realize it’s been a year since you spoke to the person who you used to think you’d never live without; that feeling you get when you drive past the places you used to share together, or hear a song that you used to associate with that person, and feel everything come flooding back. These are the visceral images that “Minor Letdowns” brings to mind, and while the song ultimately aims for resilient uplift (the title line, “These minor letdowns will make someone else’s day,” refers to the personality quirks, flaws, and maddening idiosycracies that may ruin one relationship but define the best parts of another), listening to the song is akin to reliving every broken love story from your past. It’s a hell of a way to start a record.

Perrone’s greatest weapon is and always has been his voice. A high tenor capable of conveying limitless depths of feeling, that voice gives this album its heartbeat and its gravitational pull. Of course, the songs on Kaleidoscope would all be good in the hands of just about any able musician: Perrone’s personal lyrics and his knack for memorable melodies makes tunes like the danceable “First Move” or the entrancing “The Fine Art of Feigning Interest” impressive examples of songcraft, even without the musical performances taken into account. With Perrone’s voice driving them, though, these songs take flight and become bulletproof.

The best singers perform in such a way that you connect the emotion in the songs they are singing to experiences from your own life. Perrone is so talented, though, that he makes you feel like you’re right there beside him as he faces his demons. On “Match,” you’re walking the streets of Boston at 3 a.m., staggering home from yet another disastrous date and feeling, as the alcohol wears off, like you’ll literally always be alone. On “Feel Everything,” you’re helping him pack his bags as his now ex-fiancé sits in the next room, awkwardly waiting for him to walk out the door and out of her life. And on the staggering “Gone,” you’re feeling every word like a barbed wire—just as he intends them for his ex. “You’re fine because you always would be,” he utters during the chorus. Ouch.

Make no mistake: these songs hurt to listen to. They’re haunting, bruising, harrowing, and unrelenting. They will leave you exhausted and chilled, thinking about your own romantic ghosts. But they are also blisteringly cathartic and incredibly moving. It’s always stunning when an artist dares to be this bare. And while Perrone has always been a very honest, heart-on-the-sleeve songwriter (his last record, 2010’s masterful Release, came clean about his fears of getting older and his simmering frustrations with trying to “make it” in the music industry), there’s something about Kaleidoscope that feels even deeper and less reserved. It’s as if Perrone’s struggles with writer’s block stripped away any sense of pretense and left only the man at the center of these songs.

Not all of Kaleidoscope is bleak. One of the biggest influences here is 80s pop, and groovier, faster-paced numbers like “First Move,” “If Only for a Weekend,” and the aptly titled “Recovery is a Long Road” help to mop up the blood left by the heartbreak warfare. As for “Saving Grace,” the album’s exemplary penultimate track, that one actually sounds like warfare, with skittering handclaps and percussive rhythms pulsating over a dark melodic backdrop. It’s a complete departure from anything Perrone’s done in the past—something that the singer consciously aimed for in the wake of his writer’s block.

One of the most special songs on the album is “A Fine Departure,” which plays like a career swansong as well as an album closer. Thematically, the track would have actually fit better on Release, with lines like “What would you think of me my friends, if I left with nothing?/These dreams I thought that I could have/Have since been corrupted” aligning well with that album’s motifs of aging, frustration, and disenchantment. But when the song bursts into an actual kaleidoscope of Perrone’s past songs—fragments of nine tunes are wedged into the closing minutes of the song, low in the mix so that fans can pick them out on repeat listens—it makes more sense here. This song is a career summation, and it’s final lines are the perfect ones to leave the room with: “And if this is all I have left to write, could we slip away a light up the night?/Spark fires in the sky, turn this town on its side/A fine departure from these beautiful times.”

When I spoke to him a few weeks ago, Perrone downplayed the idea that Kaleidoscope could be his last record. Frankly, he’s a completely independent artist who makes music on the side of a busy full-time job, and he never knows when his next record is going to come along—or indeed, if it is ever going to come along at all. But it would be a huge shame to lose a voice and a talent as singular as Perrone’s. In an industry where artists frequently spend exorbitant sums of money on their albums, Perrone made Kaleidoscope on a modest budget that he raised through PledgeMusic, and he did it with the help of just two other guys—Dennis Carroll and Steve Belleville. The result is one of the best sounding, most musically accomplished, and most emotionally heartfelt records of the decade so far.

And sure, given Perrone's status as an independent artist, far too few people will ever hear Kaleidoscope. But universal presence and appeal isn’t something I need to validate what I know is true, which is that this album is something special: this is the kind of record that could change a kid’s life if he or she found it at the right time; the kind of record that makes me thank God that we live in an era where technology has allowed artists to "do it themselves." Because sometimes, there really is nothing more important than a breakup record. And this one? It's world-class.

No comments:

Post a Comment