Derek Senn is a self confessed basement knob twiddler. A glance through his CD notes reveals a modest, DIY singer/songwriter with a downhome sense of humour and no airs, graces or starstruck compulsion to give himself a more muso-like psuedonym such as D. Rek or Senn D Snake (you get the idea). Instead he treats us to a humble, almost sheepish narrative of his journey to San Francisco's Tiny Telephone and first meeting with famous analogue junkie John Vanderslice.
The result is The Technological Breakthrough, a slightly ironic title for a simplified ten day analogue recording using Vanderslice's tried and tested session players alongside his well documented penchant for allowing no more than two takes per track. It's a fresh method and has produced some stunning results which, considering TT was Senns' first and only studio approach has turned out to be an inspired choice. Opening number "Bless Her Insecurity" sets the tone - understated but perfectly balanced. "Bohemian Girl" follows and again, one is struck by the humility in the lyrics; these are songs about the day to day realities of modern life, most likely his own although I hope not insofar as the haunting "Downhill" is concerned, it being on the subject of a failing relationship, beautifully written though it is and enhanced by some sombre percussion by Vanderslice's long time sticksman, Jason Slota. There is something unerringly effective about some of the simplicicity in Senn's words: "Whenever I catch you looking at me/you look like you don't like what you see/ we're going downhill, we're going downhill". These days there is a "Healthcare's Where" to be found on most albums - a Neil Young-esque rant about the 'system', although I must admit I'm slightly confused about this particular version. I'm going to take the British stance on this track and assume he's being ironic when he sings: "I'm a defense hawk who's cruel on crime and healthcare's where I draw the line". Next up, "Hell If I Know", with Rob Shelton's impeccable keys failing to overshadow the intrinsic perfection of the songwriting, which continues on throughout the rest of this CD.
The lyrics are perhaps the star attraction, always keeping the listner interested as tales of jet ski's, popcorn poppers, and all manner of singular apparatus contradict the forthright emotion of other themes such as the self explanatory "Darling I'm Not Earning Enough" and "You Don't How Good You've Got It", where the analogue production skills of Vanderslice really come to the fore - that song's got some attitude. Senn goes all French on us on the penultimate track "Tiny Telephone" but no doubt he had good reason so that can be forgiven and to conclude, The Technological Breakthrough is a fine breakthrough collection of songs which capture the imagination with a dynamism which matches Senn's enthusiasm for his art. With a set of musicians and producer that so obviously get the best out of him, let's hope that he retains their services and that we're not left waiting too long for a follow up.
A review of The Technological Breakthrough by New Times Magazine arts editor Glen Starkey:
Click Here and scroll down or read it right here....
CD Reviews September 18, 2014
Derek Senn: The Technological Breakthrough (independent)
|CD IMAGE COURTESY OF DEREK SENN |
I’ve been listening to Derek Senn’s basement tapes for years—low-fi nuggets of repressed angst generated by a rebellious artist forced to wear a collared shirt and work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to keep his wife and kids fat and happy (OK, not actually “fat”; it’s an expression, Melanie). Much of his music seems to stem from the tension between his artistic frustrations battling his deep affection for his family.
So when he shoved a copy of The Technological Breakthrough in my hand, and I brought it home and slapped it in my CD player, my first thought was, “This seems overly produced for Derek.” He had headed to San Francisco’s Tiny Telephone recording studio for a 10-day session, where producer-musician John Vanderslice and his team of session players—Jon Monahan, Rob Shelton, and Jason Slota—were standing by to fill out the sound on Derek’s songs. I was admittedly a bit put off at first. I liked Derek’s DIY, recorded-in-his-basement sound, and this? Well, it wasn’t the Derek I know.
I kept at it. I listened. I listened again. And then, it clicked.
Without a doubt, the star of Derek’s show is his lyrics, which border on brilliant when they haven’t already crossed over into freaking brilliant territory.
“Bless Her Insecurity” kicks off the album: “She brings home the bacon she pays all the bills/ I eat all the bacon I eat all the pills/ She does all the cooking she does all the chores/ I’m known for my past athleticism and my generous pours/ and she could definitely do a lot better than me/ Bless her insecurity.”
Derek has taken a giant leap forward in his writing, mixing elements of his life with created characters he weaves through gripping narrative songs.
In “Hell If I Know,” Derek sings, “We used to wake up in the morning/ climb to the summit and take in the valley below/ and the last time we did that hell if I know/ We used to wake before the sun/ grab our guns and our suits and shoot out to the Morro/ and the last time we did that hell if I know.”
That one’s probably a bit closer to home. Two young boys can put a damper on parents’ outings. And then, there are quirky tracks like “Whoop De Do,” about a magnum opus to his canoe. To remind listeners of his politic bent, Derek offers “Healthcare’s Where,” which puts him into the character of a rightwing nut who supports war and being tough on crime—but won’t spend a dime on healthcare. The title track is about giving up our distracting “devices” and getting back to life.
Every song is deceptively thoughtful, sneaking up on you, drawing you in, taking you for a ride. Derek’s album may take a few listens to hook you, but beware; once it does, you’re his.