I still don't know what to make of Kentucky Route Zero. Knowing how foreboding the first soundtrack was put me on edge a little coming into Act II. So while the album starts off with what's essentially the soundtrack to an idyllic Holywood-styled 50s suburban paradise, I still feel like it's going someplace sinister. Because while I'm listening to catchy, upbeat retro-inspired tunes, I'm reminded that the track name is "Nameless Interiors," and I find myself nervous.
The following three tracks — Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces, The Zero, and Work and Need — continue the series' tradition of mildly unsettling ambiance, though I feel they all have a bit more of an actual melody to them than the first album. The former two songs are very dark and moody. Work and Need has the same feeling, but the higher pitched tones give it a bit of a sense of urgency, with a stress that builds over the 4 minute track until it's almost uncomfortable. It doesn't plod along, but rather gives me a sense that something needs to be done, and soon, before it's too late. I should play the game to see if I'm even remotely close in my assessments, shouldn't I?
The solo rendition of Long Journey Home brings us back to Ben Babbitt's folksy vocal stylings heard in Act I. Despite being about a (long) journey home, there's a sense of sadness between banjo twangs. Once again, I like the country stylings Ben brings to the album, and not only because it's firmly rooted in a Johnny Cash-like storytelling feel, but because it doesn't terrify me like so many other songs here.
Julian gives us one more unrelenting white noise song. The kind where a note is held so long that you feel like it's going to transition at any moment and move forward, but it lingers like unwanted relatives during the holidays just long enough to, yes, make one a mite antsy.
Then we close on another version of Long Journey Home, this time by the full Bedquilt Ramblers. It's not simply the same song with extra vocals and instrumentation, but a much faster-paced production. Despite identical lyrics and a somewhat cheerier feel coming from the combination of Ben Babbitt and Emily Cross' vocal stylings, the increased pace hearkens back to Work and Need and that sense of urgency. They seem to be in a bit of a hurry, taking what was once a song about a casual walk home to a walk home that's taken at a faster pace as you often glance behind you just in case that creepy guy is following you.
I realize that parts of this review seem like I don't like what Ben did with the music, but that's not the case. Everything I describe as unsettling or off-putting isn't meant as a detractor, but rather, I feel that was very intentionally the sound he was going for. If so, he does a great job. It may not be for everyone, and feels perhaps a little "experimental," but you might be surprised. I liked the sparseness of Act I, but I think he improved quite a bit with his work on Act II and managed to create some very interesting and peculiar moods here. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to grab a hot chocolate mocha and hide under my sheets.
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