Kris Ulrich “Big in the USA”

Birthday Cake Records, 2023

A dreamy sonic setting for words pondering life and relationships with clarity and insight.

Kris Ulrich has a clear statement of intent about his new album. “These songs were born from a feeling that I wouldn’t ever make anything again. But they ended up leaving me with the clearest vision I’ve ever had for my music. It represents a shift in my relationship to production, guitar and songwriting. Built on the foundation of driving drum machines, woozy synth layers, dogged hooks, and a clear lyrical voice”.

He follows that intent with the first song, ‘Friends on the Internet’. Born of moving to Toronto, “It’s a song about that nervous excitement of new possibilities that come with a new crush, and I hope it makes you feel warm and cosy.” The Rhythm Ace drumbeats and guitar line that neatly reflects the chorus, and words that speak to the acceptance of how new relationships may or may not work.

Never Too Late’ starts with real drums and a Tom Petty in pop mode groove.  Clocking in at just over 2 minutes it continues the new town theme. “It’s never too late. I know you can’t wait. To leave this place. Weekly meat draw. Change your name. Settle into. Small town fame”. The short, clipped lines are again punctuated by a clever guitar hook. The atmospheric ‘1994’ looks back to a happy time, and highlights another one of his ambitions for the album. “is both hopeful and melancholic, simultaneously holding the reflections of the dusty past played on old tape and the surging brightness of future possibility.”

If there’s a criticism of the album it is that a change of pace would have been nice. Most of the album drifts along at a comfortable mid-tempo amble. Where it does get it does get a bit more abstract and experimental, as on ‘Don’t Think About It’ there is a feeling of everything threatening to fall apart in a Jeff Buckley style. That only lasts for a while though and then it’s back to the drum machine, guitar, and dreamy synths. The songs and his delivery are good enough to raise them above the occasional blandness in the arrangements.

Give ‘Big in the USA’ a chance and it will pay back the couple of plays it takes to settle into your consciousness many times over. The wistful ‘Here in my Mind’ is a minor masterpiece. The guitars, synths and beats blend with the words as he resolves his new town worries: “It’s not so bad. Being on your own. I’ve got friends in my telephone”. When he allows the ambient sounds to come to the front is when we hear his best voice. The instrumental ‘It’s Okay’ floats along to a Beatles-like reverse guitar and piano. ‘You’ve got to be Patient’ which closes the album feels like the end credits to a film rolling, slightly disconnected from the rest of the album, but with the most effective guitar solo here.

There is a slightly Brian Wilson quality to his writing and the way he uses different sounds to emphasise the words.  His mission statement for the record concludes. “This record makes me feel certain that I am in the right place. I feel the duality in the lyrics just as I feel them in my everyday life. I don’t want the past back, but the past is a part of me just as deeply as the newest experiences and desires are”. Kris Ulrich is most definitely in the right place, musically and lyrically. His new direction works.

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About Tim Martin 239 Articles
Sat in my shed listening to music, and writing about some of it. Occasionally allowed out to attend gigs.
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