OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Despite the festive decoration of its title, Ken Pomeroy’s new full-length “Christmas Lights in April” is decidedly not a Christmas record. Yet despite the springtime implications of “April” and the pastoral field on the cover, it definitely is a winter record.
Oklahoma’s own Pomeroy, still shy of her twentieth birthday, artfully dodges the usual pitfalls of the teen singer/songwriter landscape, avoiding both the angsty and the saccharine in favor of shockingly mature, blunt, simple subject matter and an underlying calmness throughout.
That sense of calm is what makes this collection of songs a perfect winter soundtrack. It’s only by coincidence that the weather this season has felt more like April than December.
Music and Film
with Brett Fieldcamp
It’s easy to say that Pomeroy’s voice comes across as far more mature and older than her age, but it feels obvious that it’s the way she uses it that makes the difference. Her command and control of her own voice is far more impressive than any simple comparison to what a teenage girl is “supposed” to sound like.
Her ability and willingness to toss her voice around and reach for the higher registers with genuine intensity is much more audibly akin to young Emmylou Harris than to any of the recent aspiring starlets from American Idol or The Voice. She never comes across as attempting to show off with some acrobatic vocal skills. It honestly seems like she could do it if she wanted to, but that she’s perfectly content with relying on the strength of her songwriting to be impressive enough without the unnecessary showiness.
It’s that restraint and confidence that showcases the maturity for which Pomeroy is known more than something as simple as just the sound of a soulful or raspy vocal.
Comparisons to current “Indie Queen” Phoebe Bridgers abound, and not without good reason. There’s a kind of inherent sadness and an almost deflated defeat in the way that Pomeroy will drop at the end of a lyric that is also a staple of Bridgers’ work, as well as a strong sonic comparison between the sparseness of these songs and the general minimalism of Bridgers’ earlier music.
But whereas Phoebe has a tendency more toward ironic detachment and jaded self-sabotage, Pomeroy’s attitude continually comes across as idealistic in the face of disappointment, as if her songs are about learning from her mistakes instead of resigning herself to being doomed to repeat them.
Much more than Bridgers, my immediate comparison in both the sound of Pomeroy’s singing voice and the depth of her figurative songwriting voice would actually be Aimee Mann, an artist that I’d expect Pomeroy will grow closer and closer to as she develops both her sense of musical adventurousness and her own sense of humor in her songs, two elements that feel almost guaranteed for her going forward.
Lyrically, the songs on “Christmas Lights in April” make no attempt to betray Pomeroy’s age or experience. Her perspective is that of the late stages of adolescence and early adulthood, the passion and loss and the small moments made seemingly huge just by their newness. But she has a way with words, and more than anything, a knack for recognizing imagery and using it to its fullest effect that even any number of older songwriters can’t quite crack.
“My eye’s been opened for so long,” she sings on the title track, “that the sheetrock above me is starting to look like you.”
For all the folksiness and organic traditionalism in an album of acoustic ballads, Pomeroy is still entering adulthood in the modern world, and that inevitable uncertainty and conflict is never more clearly addressed than on “His Eyes.” Definitely one of the better and more delicate responses to the murder of George Floyd and the protests and unrest that followed that I’ve heard outside of the rap community, she jumps headlong into the ensuing rage and confusion without attempting to co-opt the movement or the cultural outrage. These are generational touchstones as important to the current youth as any first love or any rite of passage, and Pomeroy’s straightforward poetic instincts are a perfect fit for a moment in time so devoid of nuance.
“I don’t know if I’m crying because I’m angry,” she sings, “or if it’s the gas they put in the air.” A singer with less earnestness couldn’t pull it off, but from Pomeroy, it’s powerful.
With 10 simple, bare-bones tracks of acoustic guitar and a dash of sparkly lead accompaniment (courtesy of the untouchable Kyle Reid,) Ken Pomeroy gives us the perfect document for a confusingly warm winter at the end of a bafflingly complicated and difficult year.
Maybe the world itself is still struggling its way into something like adulthood. If so, “Christmas Lights in April” might be the perfect metaphor as we all cling to the last bright, colorful parts of the past that we can’t bring ourselves to take down and box up just yet.
Last Updated December 21, 2021, 9:56 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor