Mike Madriaga 11:30 a.m., Aug. 19
WTF Album of 2011: Keven Darklight, a Sci-Fi Hip-Hop Musical
Longtime Reader readers may have noticed I rarely do literal album reviews, preferring to let the Everyone's a Critic/Hometown CDs contribs shine in that department. But this singular local-centric release Keven Darklight, winner of my (not so) coveted WTF Album of the Year award for 2011, would seem to call for an exception. So...
What if you threw your own sci-fi hip-hop musical, and nobody came?
“The seat count was 18 out of 803,” says Keven Porter, Jr., aka Keven Darklight, who began 2011 by renting the Poway Center for the Performing Arts on January 22 for a theatrical production of his concept album Keven Darklight, in which he portrays the title character.
When I asked him about the astonishingly low turnout, he said “My promoters failed to reach the demographics I had encouraged them to go after. They have since apologized.”
Preferring to be called just “Keven,” he describes the project as akin to “Ziggy Stardust, a cool and honored comparison to Mr. Bowie. Within us all there is light and darkness, a dormant Hyde to our exterior Doctor Jekyll. On this record, it is the dark within, the inner conflicted Mr. Hyde, which takes the forefront. Much of what I lyrically pull comes from my own inner strife.”
As for the three-act show witnessed by those eighteen people in Poway, Keven (email handle “KevMegaStar”) says “I utilized lighting effects and video projected on a gigantic cyclorama screen. There are several songs within my show that take on a theatrical appeal, with characters and props. As a theatrical arts graduate, it was important for me to bridge my acting abilities with my music.”
Amidst his own costume changes, several local models enacted a runway fashion show during one song, while another tune found him singing to a female character dying of cancer.
“I had an actress portray my dying love interest, another a nurse, and a third [playing] an angel of God sent to retrieve her soul. All were in costume and acted out the death scene…in the end, the audience saw my dying love leave with the angel, and I alone on stage, staring at the chair she once sat in.”
Though he’s reluctant to discuss production cost, the Poway venue charges around $1,400 per five hour block, with additional hourly fees for technicians, box office staff, and a house manager.
However, “When my promo team attempted to arrange a free concert [at Poway High], they were not simply told no but also verbally insulted by current office staff. [They were] very rude.”
A few months later, a longform Keven Darklight video was released online, including footage shot at the sparsely attended PowayCenter performance.
As Keven told the Reader at the time, “For the video, there will be no audience angles, and an audience cheer track will be added to the scene of me approaching the stage.”
Nothing I can say will prepare you for below video sample, so just...checkitout...favorite it on Facebook...go ahead, I dare ya...
Here's the vid description on YouTube: "Within us all there is light and darkness, a dormant Hyde to our exterior Doctor Jekyll, though both are normally agreed upon to peacefully co-exist within the human physic. Darklight is the inner being within us all that is freed in times of inner and or exterior turmoil in defense and or protection of our inner light/ being. Some may argue that such a character is the true prime nature of man, though many others would agree that light and darkness, joy and frustration, are a combined team that makes us who we are. Yet, it is often the lighter sides of our selves we wear on the exterior."
Now, I’ve not seen the rest of the video, but Keven DID send me a copy of the 20-track Keven Darklight CD.
I have to admit, I was pretty curious! Knowing nothing about the guy other than the chat that yielded the above quotes (and that his mom is a Reverend), I was frankly imagining something along the lines of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge.
That said, I ended up playing the entire CD from start to finish, with nary a letup. The result?
Not quite what you’d expect.
First of all, it’s usually a bad sign when a recording artist feels compelled to list his full name Keven Porter Jr. after every single song and production credit in the CD jacket; no less than 24 times in this case!
Add to that the prominent (and ridiculously/intriguingly optimistic) web addy “KEVMEGASTAR.COM.”
AND the photos of unblinking Keven wearing a low rent Bedazzled MJ-style jacket (Bad-era minus the buckles)...
AND a back cover photo of him wearing skullface wrestler-style makeup...
...and you have a truly offbeat package that, I don't mind telling you, took much courage to open and play.
‘Kay, didja ever wonder what it would have sounded like if, instead of joining the Jackson Five, Michael Jackson sang lead for Devo?
No, huh? How about El DeBarge fronting the Human League?
Or Rockwell -- remember “Somebody’s Watching Meeeee”? -- actually, uh, rocking well??
These were my first notes on listening to “Keep Holding On,” which surprised me with its driving guitar riff and funkified ‘70s bassline. The electronics were a bit robotic, but Kevin’s melodic (and oh-so-sincere) vocals channeled a very Michael Jackson-esque vibe.
Seriously. I mean that in its most positive interpretation; the production may not have been Quincy Jones slick, but it was far more glossy and full than I would’ve expected from what I was expecting to be a one-man Casio keyboard band.
“Always One in the Family” has an unfortunate “street” rappin’ passage that only makes his MJ falsetto much more appealing and welcome. In fact, virtually all of the album’s spoken word bits should probably have been jettisoned, especially the clunky and Shatner-esque “interludes,” which frequently come off like pissy FaceBook rants or Craigslist flames.
“Let Go” has a terrific echo-wah guitar intro that grabs immediate attention. Unfortunately, by this point it’s becoming obvious that the weak link in all this is Keven’s lyrical prose, much of it more suited for the high school composition book of a frequently truant sophomore than for this surprisingly well-rendered musical adaptation.
The song’s raw lyrics -- about his lover dying from Cancer -- are rendered unintentionally funny here by the ultra-slick pop production. His singing may be more than adept, but the backdrop would be more apropos of a party than a wake.
“Perfection” has a ringing, slinky chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on Prince’s first two albums, while “I Don’t Need” attempts a falsetto sneer akin to “Leave Me Alone,” by the oft-aforementioned King of Pop.
Lyrically, tho, the song never progresses much beyond a laundry list of things that Keven Darklight definitely does not need: empty heart, games, wasted dimes, you know, that kinda thing.
“You’re Hurting Me” manages to be whiny even while name-dropping Moses, and any song that dares an a capella intro stating “For the first time, she blew my mind” merits no further comment .
Other than maybe mentioning that actual laughter can be heard in the background. The producer, or ??
“Yesterday” also opens with unadorned vocals, sounding much better here; good enough to get someone into the final half hundred on American Idol, anyway. A bit lengthy, tho, it wears out its welcome before finally wrapping up.
“A Better Man” is a fine sounding track, pure pop, if a bit techno drone-y. As throughout the album, his vocals don’t have a lot of variance, but his singing, especially his timbre, sounds quite good, at least within his (somewhat narrow) comfort range.
Nearing the end of the disc, “You’re a Winner” is another fine rockin’ handclap-driven tune, not at all hindered by the odd Star Trek sound FX that seem to come outta the left field mix.
“Rest My Heart” is nearly outstanding, with a completely unexpected acoustic guitar bed track. Probably my favorite track on the album. No, I'm not being "ironic," I'm not casting this guy as a hip-hop William Hung, Tay Zonday, or Rebecca Black or something. Okay, maybe I am a little. But even a busted clock is right twice a day, and this is a strong track.
Mind you, I probably wouldn’t play this entire CD again if you put a gun to my head.
But around a half dozen of the tracks, once you overlook the grade school lyricism, are quite good. And very listenable. Impressive, even.
And certainly not quite what you'd expect.
Viva la WTF! Looking forward to lots of inexplicable, unexpected little musical monsters for 2012!
(Above & below: my 2010 and 2011 @SDreader Rock Around the Town postcard designs - finishing new SD PC for 2012 this weekend!)