- John Morgan Kimock, Hikikomori
(Astrology Days Records, limited-edition CD, digital download)
John Morgan Kimock was onstage before he was old enough for school. His father, Steve Kimock, is an underground legend, a guitarist's guitarist like Robert Fripp or Allan Holdsworth. Steve's career has spanned countless genres, and, over the years, his son has joined him on drums for some of those journeys. Most notably that includes KIMOCK's 2017 album Satellite City, a knockout rock-soul LP with Leslie Mendelson on vocals.
In recent years, John Kimock has become a fixture in the Burlington scene, working with Kat Wright and Madaila and touring with the Mike Gordon Band. And that's just a small slice of what his schedule used to be.
Due to the pandemic, Kimock's life as a busy touring artist came to a crashing halt with the advent of coast-to-coast lockdowns around this time last year. He turned inward, focusing on some solo compositions written on the road and workshopping new material. The resulting debut LP, Hikikomori, is a remarkably mature piece of work.
A sly nod to life during COVID-19, the album is named after Japan's "shut-in" culture. But this collection is anything but boring. From the opening minute of lead track "Love Does," the sound fuses rock, jazz and electronic vocabularies, united by Kimock's unique ear and fondness for lush arrangements. As on other recent genre-defying local standouts — such as Benny Yurco's You Are My Dreams and Elder Orange's Bricks in the Bathwater — the careful editing and transitions on Hikikomori help make an eclectic set a smooth, steady ride.
Kimock's drum work, no surprise, is exquisite. The musicianship throughout is top-notch, thanks to a broad array of guests, including his dad and Gordon. But Hikikomori isn't about the younger Kimock's percussion work or his talents as a collaborator and bandleader. It's about creating huge, textural soundscapes that evoke a real feeling in the listener. And by that yardstick, the album is a big, often surprising success.
Indeed, for some of the album's best moments, Kimock pulls back the percussion altogether, as on the expansive "Alyeska" — likely named after the Alaskan ski resort where his short-lived band Maximum Love Vibes had a brief residency in 2019. Stripped of drums, the composition highlights a majestic melody.
Hikikomori is a perfect addition to the work of Astrology Days Records, the Vermont label Kimock founded with Gordon Stone protégé Patrick "Pappy" Biondo. The imprint's catalog has been dominated by Biondo's prolific solo output as KingZeek. But other notable releases have helped the young label carve out an experimental and organic niche.
For example, Biondo helped assemble last year's posthumously released The Music of Gordon Stone: A Retrospective Anthology, one of the most essential Vermont albums of the decade so far. Astrology Days has also worked with BTV punk-grass outfit the Wormdogs and Lincoln-based folk visionary Nate Gusakov.
Even among such a distinguished lineup, Kimock's debut is a gem. Hikikomori is an exciting blast of wide-open creativity and a mandatory spin for adventurous listeners.
Hikikomori is available at johnmorgankimock.bandcamp.com.