When I opened up the webpage for Birthmark and saw the name Nate Kinsella, I thought to myself, “Where have I heard that name before?” It didn’t take long (thank you, Google) to realize that I recognized the name from at least a couple other bands. Namely, Joan of Arc, Make Believe and Decembers Architects. Nate Kinsella is a multi-instrumentalist who seems to be a hired gun, of sorts. His talent is undeniable, and bands should be happy that he doesn’t just work on his own all the time.
And audiences should be happy, too. While his solo albums under the moniker Birthmark are by no means bad records, they lack a certain amount of consistency and editing that I think a band might have been able to provide.
Shaking Hands is a puzzle of an album. The pieces are made of songs written over a three-year period. In a small blurb about the album, Nate says that he chose the songs for their differences more than their similarities. I think that’s part of the problem. The songs aren’t SO different from one another, more like demo versions and alternate takes of the same song over and over.
There are some highlights, though. The opener, “Socializing,” has a nice rich sound to it, and the way it leads into track two, “Fossil Record,” is impressive. Nate’s voice on these two tracks, maybe not so much the rest of the album, is very reminiscent of Thom Yorke to me.
In fact, a lot of the record reminds me of Radiohead on the whole. It could just be the way that I’m listening to it, but there is a lot going on most of the time, and the production screams Kid A. If that was what he wanted for the album, mark it a great success.
There is a great deal of attention to the soundscapes of Shaking Hands. Each song has a sweeping, almost cinematic quality to it that adds a nice texture to Nate’s breathy vocals. It’s probably the album’s best quality, but also a curse. Background noises are great, and they certainly help to make a good album, but when they outshine every other aspect of a song, it’s hard to imagine that it’s being used as anything but a crutch.
But like I said, this isn’t a bad album. Musically it’s actually kind of brilliant. The only real problem I have with the record is that lyrically it can’t match the power of the music. So for me, I say check this out if you like the stuff he does with other bands. I don’t think it’s quite as good as Joan of Arc or Make Believe, but nobody’s perfect.
- Birthmark is the solo project of Chicago-based musician-composer Nate Kinsella.
- Birthmark just finished up a European tour.
- Shaking Hands can be purchased for $8 on Bandcamp (or, streamed for free!)