I find myself at 27 — the death throes of a decade — as a pop music fan who still loves pop music, but no longer gets all that excited about it. Perhaps it’s a ‘kids these days’ symptom, an unbearable realization that nothing today will ever match the nostalgia for lost youth. Part of me genuinely doesn’t believe that anything will live up to the thrill of being 15 and ignorant and hungry for new sounds, digging through vinyl crates at Amoeba and stumbling upon Electric Ladyland or Quadrophenia or Songs in the Key of Life, works nearly impossible to top, leaving the latest singles by Mac DeMarco or CHVRCHES looking sickly and pale by comparison. It’s an unfair scale to measure them by, but when such musical touchstones hit you at such an early age, it’s impossible to shake the narcissistic notion that you’ve heard it all before. The latest overblown corporate pop hits will inevitably underwhelm and the next blog-darling buzz band only makes you feel even more detached from reigning indie rock trends.
Thankfully, every now and then, an artist comes along and slaps you out of your self-absorbed, intractable, and painfully narrow opinions about what defines life and art.
Kendra McKinley is one of those artists, and her sophomore LP Treat is a piece of music to get legitimately excited about. Ambitious but not pretentious, sprawling yet not rambling and incoherent, Treat is a big-top rock and roll circus featuring high-flying harmonies, daredevil arrangements, and one showstopping finale in the 10-plus minute “Bitter Suite,” following in the dearly-departed tradition of ending a long-player with an epic closer (see: “Jungleland,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” practically the whole B-side of Abbey Road, etc.). There are blasts of psychedelia (“Fine As A Vine”), a hard rock séance (“Canyon Canon”), stripped-down blues (“Telling Truths”), and a funk jam (“Maya May”). There’s more, but listing every subgenre the songwriter tackles and influence she hints at would result in a repetitive slog, the exact opposite of an album brimming with vivid details and gripping nuances, the kind explicitly made for repeated listens. It’s an LP that rewards the dedicated listener, boldly asserting that the format isn’t dead if you don’t want it to be, challenging jaded music fans like me to say that this isn’t something rich and beautiful, this isn’t something proudly extravagant.