CD Review: Eric Welton “Kill Them With Kindness”
Eric Welton has been one of Windsor’s most enigmatic songwriters of the past decade, ever since he crash landed on the Rose City’s shores from the distant galaxy of Chatham-Kent.
His catalogue of music is vastly underrated – locally and nationally – and, depending on his mood, whims, friends and associates of the moment, touch on just about every gamete of emotion, situation and nuance. He is a songwriter’s songwriter, letting the songs and melodies dictate the direction each album will take him. From 2006′s understated 16-track debut ziGZag (home to live favourites “Dog”, “Another Day” and “Bright Lights”) to the follow-up in 2007, an e.p. (which featured his live classic “Drunk Man Trilogy”, as well as pop gems “Won’t Stop” and the gorgeous “What It Is For”), Welton showed he had the songwriting chops to write undeniably catchy pop classics that stuck around for days and months on end after each show or CD listen. A year later, he switched from his indie pop stylings with an almost alt. country flair for 2008′s Fool Heart, which yielded several more live staples, such as “Cold Hearted Woman”, “Flea” and the heart breaking “I Don’t Believe In You (Too Far Gone)”. In three years, Welton had produced three offerings chalk full of instant sing-a-long classics and emotionally crushing ballads, performing at all the live venues downtown. Welton’s songwriting always seemed to be better appreciated, however, by the city’s local musicians more than the public. A solo performer in the studio (he recorded, produced, wrote and performed everything on his first three releases, except for Fool Heart‘s “Fool Heart Blues”, a collaboration with former Golden Hands Before God guitarist Steven Gibb), his live backing band featured many of the area’s most respected performers, such as Jackie Robitaille, Tara Watts (The Locusts Have No King), Damien Zakoor (The Swillingtones, The Vaudevillianaires, The Golden Hands Before God), Eryk Myskow (The Hung Jury, ASK), Andrew MacLeod (Years of Ernest) and the late Bradford Helner (The Hung Jury, Huladog, Mr. Chill & The Witnesses). Over the next few years, he seemed to almost abandon his solo career when he joined up with Chatham’s (and one of Canada’s) finest psychedelic rock outfits, Square Root of Margaret (lead by his cousin and long time friend Po Kadot).
Following the release and limited touring for Square Root of Margaret’s last album, 2010′s WYSIWYG, Welton once again began work on his next solo release and now, three years after his last, he has finally unveiled his most solid release yet, the deliciously schizophrenic Kill Them With Kidness (which he releases this Friday at Phog Lounge (157 University Ave. West), backed by Eryk Myskow, Josh Zalev (Huladog, Vice Aerial, Mr. Chill & The Witnesses), and Luke “Big Lou” Pelotte (Theory of Everything, The Hung Jury, Vice Aerial)).
While prior releases showed off a minimalism that was both refreshing and ear-pleasing, with this release Welton has added a multitude of layers to create a grandness and lushness not present on previous efforts. This time around, the minimalism is more pronounced and the epic truly shines. Once again, Welton handles the bulk of performance, except for steady bass work from long time live associate Eryk Myskow on most of the record and one song guests in some vocals from Years of Ernest’s Andrew MacLeod (on “Every Day”) and percussion from SROM bandmate Ben Srokosz on the opener.
The frantic indie rock of the under-a-minute lead off track “Kooler” segways nicely into the groovy plodding of the title track. On “Kill Them With Kindness”, Welton once again displays that being wordy is sometimes backseat to a solid beat and groove, as he sings “I want/what you want/and you want it all/I know/what you know/and you know/it all” over a bouncy rhythm that would be best heard on a sunny Sunday afternoon with the window rolled down.
The guitars ring loud again in the circle round gang vocal rocker “Gone” before delving into the beautiful piano driven pop ballad “The Evil In Your Violence”, written in direct reaction to the tragic events surrounding Scott Funnel’s attack last fall. “Have you heard?” he croons over a gorgeous keyboard riff. “They’ve gone and changed your world. And everything you knew, you had believed … is gone, erased with every kick in the head.” For those who remember those horrible weeks when we nearly lost our friend, the refrain “The evil in your violence is permanent” will ring with a haunting shiver.
A beautifully and somewhat faithful cover of an older Square Root of Margaret song, “Hazel Eyes”, uplifts the record from the heaviness of the prior track, and Welton, free from the restraints of writing a song, showcases one of his finest strengths on record – his layering of vocal harmonies, some simple and obvious, some so layered or obstructed your brain hears them without realizing just how many voices they are hearing.
“Every Day” could easily be an anthem for many in today’s world. It seemingly tells the tale of a man suffering from an immeasurable vices who justifies his demons and self-destructions by simply praying to his maker for forgiveness. Andrew MacLeod (Years of Ernest) capably assists Welton with the harmonies with another bouncy song that sounds like it could easily have fit on the alt. country Fool Heart.
With the next track, “Spherikal”, the album takes a decidedly more (controlled) experimental approach. Dabbling in electronics and vocal chants and swirls, what it lacks in lyrical content it more than makes up in substance. His tenure in Square Root of Margaret has definitely rubbed off in his own songwriting and this could easily have been an instrumental (of sorts) on an upcoming SROM release.
He briefly swings back to his minimalist indie folk-pop with “I Know I’m Dying” before jumping into what could be the electropop dance hit of the year. I don’t mean locally either. “LC/DC” sounds like the the final masterpiece that LCD Soundsystem was working on before his head exploded. Trace elements of what makes bands like Holy Fuck, Justice and Thunderheist continue to control dancefloors in clubs across the country. Driven around a monstrously dirty and almost Death From Above 1979 bass line from Eryk Myskow, Welton adds layers of electronic skin, veins and muscle to create a driving 8+ minute ditty that would have the same effect on a dancefloor in Montreal or New York that it would in Windsor. This song needs to be played just when the crowd is at it’s sweatiest and drug addled. This is what losing inhibitions on the dance floor sounds like.
It closes with a song, “unOther”, that seems to incorporate everything that Welton’s music encapsulated on this record. Quirky lyrics (“I said if you’re the cat and I’m the mouse – eat me!”), pulsing driving rhythms lead by vocal melody and simple instrumentation, layered upon each other to a degree that a princess couldn’t hear the pea, swerving from idea to idea with the greatest of ease.
Which to a degree, is what Eric Welton’s music is all about. Never being constrained by what critics or audiences seem to think pop music should be and simply throwing his own experience and inner songs against the wall and hoping that what sticks isn’t the shit but the shinola. Kill Them With Kindness is a bold and brave songbook of Welton maturing and branching out of his home studio comfort zone and finding a Hunter S. Thompson world of song that defies to be shackled by the FM radio pre-sets.
Eric Welton presents the Kill Them With Kindness CD release party, Friday October 28th at Phog Lounge (157 University Ave. West), with special guests Chatham’s Long Lots.