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4 May 2017

The Karl Hendricks Trio - 'A Gesture of Kindness' (Fiasco/Peas Kor)

This is the last Karl Hendricks Trio record with the original, 'classic' lineup, as Tim Parker soon left and formed a great band called Vehicle Flips for awhile, before leaving Pittsburgh entirely. I wonder what happened to him? I used to know him, when I was a plucky kid, and he was a pretty cool dude. If all you take the first sentence here as your only source, then you might think it was Parker who steered the Trio towards a more pop-based, catchy direction, and that his departure was already imminent here, because A Gesture of Kindness mostly sheds the pop hooks which Buick Electra is so saturated in, and trends towards a more subdued style of melodic work. Although the album artwork boasts of 'snappy toe-tappers', this album steers far closer to the sound of mid-90s indie rock; you can hear an influence from bands like Slint, the For Carnation, and Silkworm. This style actually suits the more introspective and somber side of Karl's lyrics, which are in full force here. The album closer, 'Your Damned Impertinence', runs over nine minutes (EPIC!), built around a very plodding, moody indie rock line which would really date this if it wasn't such a good track. There's an irony to the lyrics -  he's singing, through clenched teeth, a love song about how he enjoys the act of being frustrated, and when it explodes into the rocking-out parts, there's a thrill of release, an anthemic lift, and a genuine justification of the relationship between the lyrics and the musical style. Also (mostly) absent this time is Wayno; Chris Ware takes over cover art duties here, which is certainly a lovely aesthetic, though Wayno does the cover of the included lyric book, and it resembles a classic zine 'mini'. Typed out in Xeroxed glory, Karl's lyrics here can be read more easily than ever before and a dark bitterness seems to have crept in. The glorious, romantic optimism of 'Painted My Heart' or 'Nowhere But Here' is absent, and an ultimately deeper (though initially less inspiring) frustration with relationships and love has emerged. I think I listen to Karl's music to feel young and inspired - to remember the way I approached the universe at age 17 - so that's one of the reasons I rarely dust off A Gesture of Kindness. Twenty years later, I can really feel some of these observations resonating with me, because I needed to suffer my own miseries of love/life to connect with these songs. The rockers are fast and furious, and the fidelity of this pressing leaves a bit to be desired - the first side in particular was either mastered or pressed poorly, as the sound is blown out and muffled, and way too bassy. On the more aggressive numbers this is really problematic, but when things slow down for 'The Dress You Bought in Cleveland', over which Karl mourns a relationship from a classic male perspective (yet devoid of any misogyny), the space really echoes well. The 1-2 punch of 'Desperate Drunken Artist' and 'Breaktaking First Novel' shows his turn towards the world of literature; he spent his later years teaching creative writing, and it was in a literature class that he gave me this copy of A Gesture of Kindness, making it a truly self-fulfilling title. I don't have any of the later records, which is not to indicate that I didn't always enjoy the Trio (and later the Karl Hendricks Rock Band) whenever I saw them. I hope that if anyone is actually reading these writeups, then maybe some new people will be turned on to the man's words and music. RIP.

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