There is a growing music scene that I've been hearing more from lately, Nerd Rock. There's been several artists that I've really liked: 'Weird' Al Yankovich, They Might Be Giants, Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm, John Anealio, The Decemberists, amongst others. A new find of mine, Seattle-based duo Kirby Krackle, joins this genre with their two albums, their self-titled debut disc (Kirby Krackle, 2009) and their latest release, E for Everyone (2010).
E for Everyone is possibly one of the best examples of Nerd Rock, with a great alternative – rock sound that sounds incredibly polished and energetic, with songs about superheroes, comic books, video games and geek life. Within minutes of finding the band’s name on twitter, I was able to listen to a couple of their songs off of their website, and within minutes, I had both of their albums off of iTunes. Of all of the bands that I’ve listened to, they’re one of the more exciting, with a great sound and some fantastic lyrics.
The album starts off with Vault 101, about the video game Fallout 3, with a good kick, but the really good start comes with On and On, a song about Wolverine from X-Men, and his own struggle with immortality, thanks to his rapid healing. The rest of the album is a fairly diverse grouping of songs that is much better than their first album. Secret Identity is as it sounds (about a guy with a secret identity – it’s not specific to any one superhero), Roll Over feels like a party song that references just about every 1980s cartoon that I can think of, while Henchman follows a character trying to be a henchman for a super villain – asking some good questions: what are their hours, and what can they offer for health insurance? – Ring Capacity opens with a bright sound and looks to Green Lantern for inspiration. Can I Watch You? Is a funky song about Uatu and Take it from Me is about Mega Man. The last three songs on the album, Great Lakes Avengers, Dusty Cartridges and Long Boxes and Going Home are some of the best songs on the album, if not Nerd Rock in general. Great Lakes Avengers is plain fun: a character tries to join the X-Men, Justice League, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern Corps, (amongst others), while trying to avoid the eye of the Great Lakes Avengers, who are apparently a disaster, being some of the worst superheroes of all time. The album turns from lighthearted fun to more serious fair with the light ballad Dusty Cartridges and Long Boxes, a sweet story of a geek in love with a geeky girl. Going Home ends E for Everyone on a great note about the joy of attending a convention, describing it in the best way that I’ve heard: “We're on the road, we're going home/To the place where wild nerds roam/With pretty girls and dudes in capes/Going to cons is our escape.” The sound is chalk-full of energy and feels perfect for blasting over the speakers as one drives over to any given convention. For all of those thinking of attending the upcoming Celebration V or Dragon*Con, this will be a good one to start off with.
Nerd Rock is something that I’ve been looking for, and as I’ve looked, there’s a good variety of material out there. The internet is a good medium for aspiring artists, and in a number of cases, there’s a lot of material that wouldn’t normally work its way through the music industry: as people are able to make music on their own, there seems to be a greater variety of music, which bodes well for the larger geek-community. Artists such as John Anealio and Jonathan Coulton both have had success with their own music, self-released, about various subjects in the speculative fiction genres. Kirby Krackle doesn’t seem to have the same exposure to the fan community, but has gone with their own route, essentially self-publishing their music and selling it through iTunes and their own website, gaining fame in their own circles.
The album succeeds on its own because it’s not a gimmick. Singer-songwriters in general are at their best when they’ve put together a song that they and their audience can get behind and relate to: that’s exactly what Kirby Krackle seems to have done with their two releases, and E for Everyone feels like a refinement over their first album. They’ve found exactly what they want to sing about, and people who will listen to, and they’ve taken off from there. This album exudes confidence, skill and some very good songwriting behind the sound. The duo, Kyle Stevens and Jim Demonakos, have some serious geek credit with them: Demonakos founded Emerald City ComicCon and has penned a graphic novel and founded a chain of comic book shops in Washington, while Stevens has released six albums with other groups. More importantly though, it sounds like they’re having a good time on stage.
This sub-genre of Nerd Rock is a positive thing for fandom: music is a fantastic venue for telling stories on its own (and Kirby Krackle does this with a couple of songs: Henchmen, Great Lakes Avengers, Dusty Cartridges and Long Boxes and Going Home) but is also a good venue for humor, reflection, and something in the music world for fandom to relate to. The inclusion of science fiction and fantasy elements in songs isn’t a new thing: just look at some of Iron Maiden’s songs for music about Dune, Lord of the Rings, D-Day and quite a bit more, but new artists bring fresh air to fans. I’ve gotten a kick out of a number of songs about some of my favorite things, and a new venue for speculative fiction is a very good thing, because music tells stories differently than prose or video.
The bottom line is: Kirby Krackle is on a roll with E for Everyone, and they’re a band that I hope to hear a lot more from in the coming years. In the meantime, they’ve left me with a fantastic album to listen to over and over.