Release Date: June 24, 2016
Label: Yellow K Records
Upon first listen ‘Summon Up a Monkey King’ strikes you as a very solid (although perhaps not exceptional) collection of pleasant indie folk tunes. It’s an intimate experience – LUKA (Luke Kuplowsky) draws you in closely with his near-whispered vocals. And his voice isn’t bad (again, nothing exceptional) – it has a nice timbre to it and he thankfully stays within his limited range. Then there are the clever touches – the beautiful twang of pedal steel, the sudden swoop of electric guitar, and the introduction of a gorgeous female backing chorus (Ada Dahli and Julie Arsenault). Good stuff, but nothing beyond that, right? Then you take a closer listen…
One of the essential elements in devotional, confessional folk is that degree of sincerity the artist wears on his/her sleeve. However, there are times when LUKA debunks this notion – quite deliberately it would seem. In the ostensibly serious “Always the Same Bed” Kuplowsky, quite out of the blue, employs animal noises (a pigeon and then a cat). It’s more than just a case of having a sense of humour, it is an obvious jab at all of us for taking this all too seriously. Consider also “I Count the Years”, which starts off with indie folk seriousness but then partway introduces cheesy yacht rock strings and keyboards. There are also numerous examples where Kuplowsky simply stops singing and just directly speaks to us. It all has that feeling of detachment, of an outside observer looking in.
This is what makes this album special – Kuplowsky’s tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that he is creating music but he’s not really part of it. It can, after all, be silly, and don’t we all realize that? OK, no one is arguing that this is high art or even that Kuplowsky is a great artist. But he is most certainly better than your average in the way he transcends the medium by actually referencing it.
And guess what? None of it matters. So what if there is a certain amount of self-mockery (and, yes, manipulation of your emotions)? The fact remains that “You Can Tell Me Everything” is achingly beautiful with its C&W moans and “A Kiss” is brilliant in its haunting starkness (complete with Jonny Greenwood-style guitar). That is probably Kuplowsky’s point in all of this, but then again we could definitely be guilty of over-thinking. Just enjoy the music.