Key Losers – “Bi-Focal” (Stereogum Premiere)

Key Losers is the Portland, Oregon-based project of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Katy Davidson, ex-Dear Nora, YACHT collaborator, etc. Her airy, sunny, graceful, impressively patchwork first official Key Losers full-length California Lite follows a 2009 “mini-album” Adjust. She’s joined on it by the “Key Losers Black Crow Session Band,” a group of collaborators featuring Karl Blau (saxophone), Total Noise’s Greg Campanile (percussion) and 
Tom Filardo (lead guitar, vocals
), LAKE’s 
Andrew Dorsett (bass and vocals) and Eli Moore (vocals), and No Kids’ Nick Krgovich (keyboards and vocals)
. It was engineered by Phil Elverum, who captured the 12 songs “almost completely” live on analog tape with “only minimal overdubbing.” (He’s releasing it on his P.W. Elverum and Sun label.) If you know Phil’s work and affinities or any of the bands just mentioned, you’ll have an idea of the pristine sound, but the record’s full of unexpected shifts and textures (like the noodly jam-band guitars, escalating drone, an imploded closer). They’re not wrong to mention “soft rock, smooth jazz, classic rock, pop, folk, art rock, and noise” or to nod to “Santana to Sade to Joni Mitchell to Stevie Wonder to Julee Cruise to Steely Dan to Steve Reich to Spin Doctors.” You may also think of early K Records or gentler Kill Rock Stars, a sort of pristine Pacific Northwest “vibe” Elverum before he had the extra “e” in his last name singing quietly with Mirah. Get a sense via “Bi-Focal,” though you’ll need to hear how it all fits together.

Key Losers – “Bi-Focal”

California Lite is out 5/24 via P.W. Elverum and Sun. Jake Longstreth did the very befitting cover art. This text Davidson wrote about the album’s worth reading:

It is my hope and expectation that all listeners to California Lite first notice the irony within the album title. Merriam-Webster defines “lite” as something “diminished or lacking in substance or seriousness” and “being innocuous or nonthreatening.” Lyrically, I believe this album could not be further from that definition. The lyrics (mostly metaphorically) suggest we are heading in a devastating direction as a human race. Musically, however, it was my attempt as a band leader to really capture the essence of “lite rock,” to utilize it as an ironic yet beautiful landscape upon which my judgmental lyricism plays in the foreground, but also to simultaneously twist the music into something enlightening for Key Losers Black Crow Session Band to play, and our supposed listeners to hear. (Keep in mind my lyrical judgment is not reserved only for others. Notice the lyrics on this album rely heavily upon the word “we,” as in “We Are a Program.”)

This album is about a few subjects at once: loneliness, transportation, and self-removal from nature at the hands of our increasing technological obsession. I use Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, as well as suburban Arizona and Oregon, as my backdrop. I employ the classic metaphor of the road, but not as a symbol of freedom or individuality. This road, our road, the freeway (as well as the “information superfreeway”), exists more as an ever-faster-moving path to an end. City and country merge on this freeway. Images of mountains distort into city skylines, hilly plains distort into suburban strip malls. We follow not the road, or our instincts, but the computerized image of the road projecting from a mounted GPS. The lyrics bring us to a break room in a corporate call center, and the I-405 in Los Angeles: places where many people co-exist, yet places oddly with a pervasive element of isolation. Technology helps us stay “connected”, so why are we lonely? Nature has become a landscape behind an interpretive sign, or a night sky behind an iPhone constellation app. We have adjusted to this comfortable experience of simulacra. The real mountains are covered in smog. But mountainous imagery on a laptop screen saver?

Heavy shit! Beyond all that though, I wanted to make a classic-sounding album, something that would hold up, and mean something, and make people feel good, for years to come. Something maybe like Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life. I’m indebted to Key Losers Black Crow Session Band and Phil Elverum for helping this vision come to fruition. I encourage you to play California Lite on something like a 1970s turntable while you’re partying with friends, or through your car stereo via iPod while driving on a freeway, or on nice headphones in a candlelit room.