Keeton Coffman, Killer Eyes
I love Keeton Coffman. Until now, I’ve been unable to even start to explain why; there’s just something about the guy’s voice that works for me, pulling me along with the song. It helps that he’s got this Springsteenian delivery I dig, sure, but after hearing Killer Eyes, I’ve realized that nah, that’s not it, not really.
Rather, it’s the intensity with which he delivers each song — he sings like every damn word counts, like a poet more than a run-of-the-mill songwriter, and that feeling, that investment, is absolutely mesmerizing, especially live. Watching him play “The Prayer” live made my mouth literally drop open; there are few musicians out there that can do that to me.
Of course, Killer Eyes isn’t quite what his previous EPs were, either in scope or style. This effort, for one thing, is bigger, grander, more expansive than anything Coffman’s done since his previous band, The 61’s, packed it in. He’s got a full band this time around, and he uses them to wonderful effect on songs like the speeding, rootsy, romantic-minded “Ellie” or the bluesy, gritty, rough-edged but seductive “Heartbreaker”.
Beyond that, while he still lives pretty firmly in the roots-rock/folk realm, Eyes sees him broadening his sound somewhat, with a seriously gospel vibe to opener “The Mountain,” which is joyful and wide-eyed, making me think of The Church of Philadelphia at points with its backing vocal harmonies and that great, great organ. Then there’s “The Tribe,” where Coffman brings out a distinctly Ben Folds-esque piano to color in the song’s pleading, almost desperate feel, and the title track, which is rides soaring, defiant, out-West-sounding guitars up to the wide-open skies.
There’s a definite shift in the second half of the album, after “Killer Eyes,” towards a quieter, more pained, more fragile sound, with the beautifully delicate “Promise,” the hazy, almost jazzy swing of “Heart In Pocket,” and soft, reverent closer “The Memory”. The one holdout is “Let Her Go,” a fast-rolling chunk of roots-pop that sees Coffman seemingly at his most desperate and most yearning.
It was at that point that I realized you can almost read Killer Eyes as the chronicle of a love affair, from the joyful, excited start (“The Mountain,” “Ellie”) to the difficulties involved in meshing two lives together (see “The Race,” which is an examination of the ways in which two people’s lives intertwine and how to make that intertwining work, or not) to the attempts to keep things together (“Promise,” “The Tribe”) and finally to the point when everything falls apart, and both parties realize it’s over (“Let Her Go,” “The Memory”).
Taken as a whole, it’s a beautiful, thoughtful, song cycle of sorts — whether Coffman meant it that way or not — that hits all the highs and lows of being in love, being with someone (because make no mistake, that’s a different thing from just being in love), and losing someone. Which goes to show that beyond that voice, Coffman’s also one of the finest songwriters this city’s got to offer (and outside of this city, too, mind you).
Most poignant of all is the fact that unlike a lot of music like this, there’s no bitterness here, no recrimination. There’s just a quiet, head-bowed resignation by the album’s finish that memories are all we truly have in the end. Because much as we’d wish it were otherwise, that’s the way it is.