Music Reviews
Here I Am Now

Fred Kelly Here I Am Now

(Self-Released) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

I’m not entirely sure how to always stay ahead of the curb when writing about music. There’s always more music to be heard, and more than that, always more music to be shared and written about. One of the smallest artists I admire is Fred Kelly. I first heard about him from another music friend in 2016 with his debut release New Conscience, which was easily one of my favorite albums of that already incredibly strong year. With sonic comparisons to Jeff Rosenstock and Joyce Manor, Kelly followed that with two strong EPs: Sheraton Commander and Thank You, Good Kids. Kelly finally returns in 2020 with Here I Am Now, his third EP and first since 2017. The new EP from him is solid, although it’s a step in an odd direction for him. If you’ve gotten used to his voice surrounded by chunky, crunchy guitar work and driving, steady drum work, then Here I Am Now may not be in line with what you’re expecting.

With bright, clean guitars and tight, electronic drum work, Kelly puts his best foot forward on lead single The California Way—and it feels like a strong pivot to indie pop. While the lyrics seem somewhat trite, there’s a deadpan honestly when he says “It breaks my Boston heart to say, but you only love me in the California way.” The final chorus comes in swinging, with enough power to sell that simple sentiment. Luckily, the lyrics aren’t stale most of the time. Plastic Mercy succeeds with intense religious imagery and the theme of forgiving oneself, but it’s backed by a lingering sense of dread that lends the song a deeper core. That song is backed by swelling synths and choppy drums, but the instrumentation gets more interesting towards the back half where the chord progression changes and gives the final chorus a boost in emotion. The primary issue that comes across on Here I Am Now is that the usual rough edges of his seem sanded off. The production isn’t rough enough, and his lyrics don’t feel as complex as they did in the past. Even a slight, catchy tune like Acts of God off of Thank You, Good Kids felt like it had more weight than, say, Color Code 505—the track is fine enough with its stuttering chorus and decent imagery, but still, nothing on the album comes close to topping Plastic Mercy.

The strongest moment on Here I Am Now is also the most vulnerable. The closing track, a live cover of The Muppets' The Rainbow Connection, is quietly beautiful, backed by almost hesitant vocals and a way too electric-sounding guitar. Kelly sounds somewhat self-conscious, but it calls to mind the best song he’s ever written, the joyful Salt Chasers at the Arthaus off of Sheraton Commander. The calm, steady delight of this cover leaves the EP with a good taste in your mouth, even if you expected something else with this project. By the time the key changes, the sleepy guitars and his shaky but wonderful voice sound lovely. There’s a calming, early morning tone that wraps it up perfectly—and while I may have hoped for something different here, I can’t complain with something this happy.