Here is a review of Avuncular by Gabriele Benzing of OndaRock, the Italian music publication:
Avuncular

From Americana UK:

Derek Senn “Avuncular” (Independent, 2016)

Derek-Senn-2016“Avuncular” is one of those words that you didn’t know you needed until you learned what they meant, and then you’re just itching to use it, waiting for the right opportunity to drop it into a conversation. Derek Senn didn’t have to wait too long on his latest album of that title, introducing the figure of uncle Mike in the very first line of the very first song. It tells the story of an American coming of age that feels personal and universal at the same time.

It sets the tone nicely for what’s to come, with Senn’s lyrics capturing ‘the general in the particular’ with creative panache. You’d struggle to find a single cliché or trope in the subject matter. From a surprisingly warm ode to Monica Lewinsky, to somehow combining home improvement with sexual innuendo (‘Tongue and Groove’), the songs often start with a seemingly ridiculous premise, only to elicit a smile of recognition by the time they’re over.

The words match Senn’s voice well, too. He switches between singing and reciting, evoking other rambling storytellers, somewhere between Tom Petty and Lou Reed.

Musically, the album combines traditional Americana fare (acoustic guitar with twangy dobro and pedal steel parts) with more unusual flavours of soft Moog synths and dramatic thunder rolls of timpani (that’s kettle drums, for you and me). The synths are played by John Vanderslice, who was also solely responsible for the production, from engineering to mixing. He did a stellar job, doing particular justice to Jason Slota’s drumming that sounds dynamic yet “free range organic”.

If you feel like learning a lesson or two from a, well, avuncular character’s life stories, give Derek Senn and uncle Mike a call.

NO DEPRESSION
Click HERE to read the review on their website or just read it below:

Derek Senn - The Technological Breakthrough

Let me start off by saying, this album is a sleeper. At first listen, it strikes you as an uncomplicated collection of slightly quirky songs... until you really start to hear the lyrics. Then the deception is over, and you realize that what youʼre listening to. If youʼre clever enough to grab the physical CD, what you’re holding in your hands is something special: an encapsulation of thought, feeling, and circumstance that speaks directly to you. Derek Senn writes songs you can relate to. They're lyrically driven songs that capture the ups and downs of everyday life in ways that are at times humorous, and other times are piercingly sorrowful in a way that hits so close to home, youʼre astonished to be hearing someone other than yourself giving voice to those thoughts. The music on each track is carefully constructed to bring out the feel of each song without being overwhelming -- it provides a rich depth to the stories being told.

The story behind The Technological Breakthrough, and Derek Senn himself, is pretty cool. Senn got serious with music around 2000 while visiting a friend in Silver City, New Mexico. His friend tended bar in a local saloon and Derek spent a full shift at the bar with his friend. It just so happened that this particular night was an open mic night, and a good one at that. So good, Derek wanted to jump up there as well, but he didnʼt know any full songs. At that point in time he decided to start writing so that heʼd be prepared if ever he found himself at an open mic night again. He decided he would try to record every two years for the next 20 years. (Creating for the sake of creation is a wonderful thing.) So, Senn bought himself a digital 8-track recorder and started his own lo-fi thing -- at first in his bedroom, and then in his basement. (For the in-depth version of the story, I encourage you to check out the bio on his website.)

In January of this year, Senn found himself with a catalog of new songs and the desire to step out of lo-fi. He contacted John Vanderslice from Tiny Telephone Recording, and after some quick correspondence, decided it was the right fit. So from April 12 to April 21, 2014, with the assistance of Vanderslice, assisstant engineer Laurence Wasser, session drummer Jason Slota, Rob Shelton providing keys, and Jon Monahan adding additional acoustic, electric, and bass guitar, the tracks to The Technological Breakthrough were laid down on 1/2” analog tape.

One of the really cool things about this CD is the 20-page booklet that comes with it. Senn includes an essay on the entire process, along with lyrics and a few pictures. I have to be honest, reading about the process and what went into it, the light-hearted comment about the added credit card debt to get the tapes made into a 1000 CDs (and understanding what itʼs like to extend yourself for your passion)... I sat there holding the finished product in my hand, feeling special and privileged that we received one of these -- the fruit of someoneʼs passionate and creative labor for review instead of a download code. Thanks, Derek.

“The Technological Breakthrough” is perhaps the strongest song on the album. At face value, itʼs about a vacation spent away from work and electronics. But, as you listen, you realize itʼs about reconnecting and regaining what becomes lost in the day-to-day shuffle and hustle of life. One of my favorite lines perfectly captures the burden of the ordinary subduing the yearning for passion: “For 50 weeks Iʼm gonna wear my monkey suit, in order to canoe the other two.” Brilliant writing. Vandersliceʼs studio cast pulls out all the stops on this one and Sennʼs melody is classic. This is a hard track not to love.

Iʼm loving track two, “Bohemian Girl,” more and more every time I hear it. I think this is where the hook set, so to speak, on my first listen through the album. Itʼs the first encounter with a theme that becomes familiar: losing better, simpler, and more fulfilled selves to the demands of day-to-day life. Sennʼs unique, straightforward writing grabs you immediately and Monahanʼs electric accompaniment to Sennʼs acoustic crafts a beautifully done sad song that reminds you that you lost something along the way.

“The Shit We Keep” is good on so many levels, itʼs ridiculous. It's a fun parody of the compulsion to accumulate stuff, and if you spend enough time around Sennʼs work, youʼll get the suspicion that itʼs probably a bit of a dig at modern living. Sennʼs lyrical magicianship is on full display and his use of harmonica and acoustic guitar, along with Monahanʼs acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, Vandersliceʼs electric guitar and synthesizer, and Slota’s drums, triangle, and “all things shakable,”  cement this as a head-bobbing, foot-tapping, hell of a good time.

Derek Senn is a master at capturing the everyday in the form of a good sad song. He does what he does because itʼs what he loves to do. Songwriters like Senn make you feel like youʼve got a friend somewhere who knows what youʼre going through. Be a good friend and support him by buying his music and spreading the word. Treat yourself on this one: skip the digital stuff and go straight for the physical product -- experience that realization that youʼre holding something special in your hand.

 

A review of The Technological Breakthrough by Americana UK:


Click Here

Or, just read it right here:
 
Friday, 12 September 2014
Tim Merricks

DEREK SENN "THE TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH"

Independent, 2014

8
  • First time lucky

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.