KiloWatts & Vanek

[Focus and Flow sleeve]"Focus and Flow" (Album, 2009) !DSO Recommended!


Kilowatts& Vanek are US-based acoustic songwriter Peter Van Ewijk (Vanek) and Belgium-based electronic musician James Watts. Living on different continents, the two first found each other's work on the filesharing platform Soulseek. A collaboration followed and four years of writing and recording. The two only met in person for the first time at their debut gig in Germany where owner of the dormant Dependent label Stefan Herwig, failing to find a label willing to release a physical album, took the surprising decision to open the doors at Dependent once more in order to release Focus And Flow.

It's the kind of indie label fairytale bands dream about. Getting signed by a label with a decent global distribution chain willing to press physical copies of your album is something of a triumph these days. It's unheard of for someone to actually revive a closed label to do it. It's the kind of thing that simply doesn't happen in the real world. Except, in the case of Killowatts & Vanek - it did. Dreams really can come true.

It's a hell of a story that just begs you listen to the music. And, for the most part at least, Focus And Flow is worthy of such a tale. The means by which the album was created are inseparable from the resulting compositions. In Belgium, James Watts honed his technical expertise. Aligned with his fluent piano playing he blended various influences into an electronica melting pot of glitch, jazz and melody. Meanwhile, in the USA, Peter Vanek developed his bare, emotive voice and guitar songwriting and story telling lyrics. The two uploaded and exchanged music files and, with some jiggery pokery, their two potentially disparate styles came together into what we have here.

The title Focus and Flow describes the process to some extent. There are times when the two genres sound like one has been simply, but cleverly, overlain the other. The combination works but you can readily identify the distinct sources. Other tracks tend to flow and merge with each other in a more organic way. They're both valid and both work, all carried off with exquisite production and engineering.

Personally, I can't see me picking up any of Vanek's solo material. There's a place for folk in my life, but the unmistakable American West twang of his guitar and the husky vocals that occasionally call to mind Nickelback's lead vocalist (Canadian) Chad Kroeger are just as much alt.rock; and that's a genre that does little for me. Predictable it may be, but if Watts were to go solo then he'd secure my attention no problem.

On the piano simplicity of Unravel, Vanek also makes me think of Cult With No Name and the loose connection both occasionally share with Scritti Politti's Green Gartside both in voice and composition. A couple of instrumentals provide a welcome diversion from the vocals and Pale Butterflies and Bloodshot Eyes in particular with its picked acoustic guitar and progressive build adds another dimension to the album. And, as much as I've a natural tendency towards electronics, it's on songs like Daylite Nightchild (where the otherwise often intricate structures are forsaken and everything is really kept to a minimum) that the concept of bringing together and blending the two styles is most articulate.

So, was it really worth reviving a record label to ensure this saw the light of day? You betca. Focus And Flow is a striking first album that will be a hard act for Kilowatts & Vanek to follow. But, hey, what a 'problem' to have. 8/10

Rob Dyer (October 2009)

See also:

Cult With No Name