For the past several weeks I have listened to two albums exclusively: Pedro the Lion‘s Control and Lykke Li‘s I Never Learn. That’s it. But then local Jackson artist Bo Kitzman messaged me with the news that he’s about to release an album this spring, and I was granted access to a first listen and review. King of the Trash is breaking my current two-albums-only-existence, and I’m thankful. Because I need to hear something new, and, better yet, the world at large should be awakened to Kitzman’s work.
First off, King of the Trash deals with personal issues. This isn’t an album about the political state of America (thank goodness) or the nature outside your window. It’s more about who you are and who you’ve been with, and with these themes come all of the confusion that relationships inevitably foster. When a relationship fails, there are two people who can share blame, yourself (whose failings you know all too well) and the other person (who you thought you once knew, but who you must now recognize as a separate, unknown entity from yourself). King of the Trash knows this, and so most of the album talks about broken relationships with a tone that is as self-deprecating as it is self-preserving.
For example, the album opener “At Least I Tried” mentions the narrator’s failure in the situation: “I’m just as dumb as the words that you can’t say.” But at the same time, the song sticks up for the narrator’s efforts while pointing a finger (and who knows which finger) at the other person involved: “At least I tried / to give it all / at least I tried / while you watched us fall.” There’s blame on both ends, but ultimately the narrator only knows his own motives and feelings, and that results in a resilient acceptance.
The second track, “You Won’t Be Ok,” is a snarky piece with optimistic backing vocals. It’s an upbeat song that could be misconstrued as friendly if it weren’t for the loud anthem of “You’ll regret what you did and you won’t be okay.” There’s no remorse or regret here, and the album’s thematic dance between blaming one’s self or blaming the other person tilts heavily toward the latter leaning into the next track, which is undoubtably the most scathing dismissal on the album.
I could write a whole article trying to dissect “Claire,” but I’ll spare you my ramblings. Let’s just say that the song opens with a voice that is part Slim Shady, part Goofy, saying, “Well, hey there, kids! Want to hear a song about a girl that’s not very nice?” What follows is a brutal yet hilarious commentary on a beautiful girl with substance abuse problems who still always manages to get what she wants. The running refrain, “Life is cruel, but remember Claire’s a joke,” coupled with a rollicking guitar, gets stuck in your head so easily that I’m afraid of speaking to people named Claire now. I might accidentally start singing. At the same time, a few cheap digs are made (“But she’s beautiful, at least for six more years”) that it’s not clear whether this girl really deserves. “Claire” runs a tight line between funny and petty, and at the end of several listens I’m still not sure which category it falls into.
Right in the middle of the album, “Going to Japan” takes a break from interpersonal insults in order to imagine a fun trip to a far away place. Weezer fans will immediately recognize the playful tone and nineties-rock sound. “Going to Japan” is a welcome breather for King of the Trash.
The following track, “Dig A Little Deeper,” returns to the themes of introspection and broken relationships that “At Least I Tried” introduced, but it’s slower, more abstract with verses like “You will never understand the world if you can never understand the pain.”
In a similar, somber vein, “Better Off,” sounds like Pedro the Lion, and I’m not just saying that because I’m obsessed with former frontman David Bazan (Kitzman told me himself that Bazan is one of his influences). Slow guitar-driven buildup, careful enunciation of each word, and introspective self-realization in the lyrics: three factors in “Better Off” that all pay homage to Bazan. “Better Off” drives home a painful sincerity, which is stripped-down in the final track.
“King of The Trash” slows down the tempo with the bare picking of an acoustic guitar coupled with Kitzman’s careful voice. In an album which seems to greet painful situations with apathetic acceptance, it’s interesting to find regret expressed in “King of the Trash.” Kitzman sings, “We were the best, even at our worst,” and the contradiction drives home the basic theme: relationships are complicated.
King of the Trash pairs catchy and often relatable lyrics with solid guitar-based music. If you’ve ever gone through a break-up, this is your jam. If not, you’ll still probably find yourself singing along.
Album release date: May 2, 2016.