Photo by Matthew W. Kennelly
Bio by Jeffrey Martin
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In a time drenched in escapism, where an unceasing barrage of synthetic shine promises comfort and relief from facing the complexity of our natures, Taylor Kingman’s new album Hollow Sound is an antithetical long night in a solitary cave, with nothing but a small fire and a hard look inward to keep you company.
Between his work fronting TK & The Holy Know-Nothings and his 2017 solo debut Wannabe, Kingman is no stranger to the darkness. But here he transcends the desolate rock bottom, as Hollow Sound whispers, then howls us into that place beyond brokenness where breathing begins again. To listen deeply to these songs is to lay down naked on the wet, unforgiving earth, pushing the ground through your fingers; it is to be soothed by the wholeness of who we are, filth and all. Kingman pulls no punches with his writing, and requires us to listen with the same honesty.
It’s been hard for me to look at myself naked
(from “Dead Bird’s Wing”)
First, though, you’ll notice the sounds. At once primordial and historic, Kingman has honed a guitar sound so impressively wrangled and so distinctly his own, that it makes your hair stand on end. Moving like a side-choir of voices, each bend and slide dances around his words such that you often mistake its notes for lyrics.
The songs on Hollow Sound were recorded live to tape in a hundred-year-old Oregon schoolhouse, which was also Kingman’s childhood home. The same high ceilings and scarred wooden floors painted into his earliest memories were the backdrop for the album. There’s an intimacy to each track that holds you from wandering away from the stories he tells. His roots are warmed and bleeding across every note, every line, and that’s exactly how he intended it.
Self-producing the album, Kingman pulled in some world-class players to join him in the schoolhouse: Jon Neufeld on telecaster, Jeff Leonard on electric bass, and Jason Montgomery on pedal steel—all of whom stand out as much for their talent as for their instinct to listen for the moments when not making a sound can be as powerful as the perfect melodic run. The engineering by Ryan Oxford and mixing by Tyler Thompson brilliantly capture the scene just as it was: four musicians in a half-circle, cutting the tracks into existence as they were performed.
The result is a warm bath of whispered and haunted tones that evoke the wild stillness of Oregon and highlight the way Kingman’s observations of the natural world parallel his stark and oftentimes brutal confessions about his own internal landscape. Nature doesn’t care to tell it any other way than it is, and on Hollow Sound, we can feel Kingman adhering to the same ethos.
Anyone who has journeyed down to the impossible darkness of their own abyss—and then awoken the next morning to find the unexpected beginnings of a newly-drawn roadmap—will resonate with the themes of shame and forgiveness in these songs.
Heaven ain’t hiding in moments of triumph
It’s alive on the wings of a bird slowly dying
(from “Heaven Ain’t Hiding”)
Without ever needing to say it so bluntly, Hollow Sound reminds us that—for all the awful weight of the finiteness of things—our limited time here and the failures we own are crucial to any recipe for true beauty and understanding. And in this space, even the ugliness of living can become a treasure deserving of gratitude.
The words escape me
But I remember when the poetry would chase me
And it’d run and overtake me
And beat me till I was holy
(from “Dead Bird’s Wing”)
In its simplicity, the 11-song album is teeming with the full spectrum of existence, each line worth chewing on for days. Kingman’s humble acoustic guitar dances with timeless melodies upon a bed of warm reverberant fuzz and hum, bass and electric guitar, and that far-off wail of the pedal steel. It’s a perfect world for these songs to live in. A distant coyote on a dreadful night and the majesty of white hot stars splattered across the expanse. It’s broken glass and wet matches and dead birds, but it’s also the echoing bells of youth and the desire to love so hotly it hurts.
If Hollow Sound points toward any one thing, it’s that the darkness we fear is often a prison of our own making, and the scenes dancing in the firelight will reveal only as much as we allow ourselves to see. Kingman sits with eyes wide to his own failure and emerges again and again with a power and a distilled knowing that can’t be earned any other way.
There is a sickness in my mind
Desperate to unwind all of the goodness my mother gave to me
That I shared with you and then took away
And when I open my mouth
It’s just a hollow sound reaching out for nothing
(from “Hollow Sound”)