Kellen of Troy is the lush folk-rock project of Nashville multi-instrumentalist Kellen Wenrich. He writes music about things that have happened to him in both his personal and professional life and backs up his vulnerable confessions with dense arrangements. It's a tasteful mélange of Americana, country, and power pop, and it stands out. His Sad Bastard EP was recently hailed by NPR's Jewly Hight as one of World Café's "Indie Discoveries Of 2017," and those were just the b-sides to his forthcoming LP, Posthumous Release (out Feb 16).
The new album opens on jangling guitar, piano, and Kellen admitting "The only power that I wish to wield cannot be found in some ivory tower, I wanna rule your heart, my dear." His low voice has an endearing drawl, it's intriguing, and it drags you in.
On "So You Found Yourself A Rockstar" he recounts being upstaged by an ex's new lover with rock 'n' roll. Cascading piano dances around a fuzzed out electric as he asks, "What did he say to sweep you off your feet? Did I do some kind of wrong? Tell me, dear, did you forget about me, or did he play your favorite song?"
By "Selfish Kind Of Love" Kellen has grown. Brushed drums, soaring electric guitar, and an arpeggio riff accompanies a story about the razor's edge between actively loving someone and being codependent. "It's a selfish kind of love, I never knew, I could win your affection baby, but I'd still treat you so cruel." Soulful, organ swirls around a chorus, with immaculately arranged electric guitars. It's mellow, focused, rich, and his realizations were fruitful. He's now married to the woman he wrote the song about.
Early in his youth Kellen Wenrich chose the violin over the piano, simply because his 5-year-old logic convinced him that it was better to play an instrument that you can carry with you. The instrument became his constant companion. He became a member of nationally successful band Apache Relay. It was through the dissolving of the band and some personal break-ups that he began formulating the material for his own band Kellen Of Troy.
He used previous recording experiences and whatever gear he could get ahold of to hodgepodge together a home studio. "It's a cliché by now, everyone has made a record at home, or in a cabin somewhere" he jokes, "but it was out of necessity, and it was nice to be able to work on parts without time constraints."
Kellen's complex musical philosophizing is best represented in the track "Chosen Kind." A song he began writing about the exploitative use of the gospel to sell albums.
He laughs, "It would be nice to buy into this thing… Jesus take the motherfuckin' wheel already." On the track, an in-pocket rhythm section plays with a heavy bass line to hold down Kellen's agnostic rock 'n' roll. He sings, " I'll come to Jesus when addiction kicks in, I'll come to Jesus when I'm out of control, but I can function pretty well on a binge, be a while ‘til I get that blow, you know I got some time, to become the chosen kind..." It's some of the most brilliant bible-belt rock on the album.
A bawdy acoustic piano riff opens the romantic "When You Don't Hear Goodbye," a healthy dose of irony wishing for the last word in a breakup. "I wish I got a piece of her mind, sayin’ I can't believe I fell for your kind, but I didn't get nothin' she just left me behind, it's so much worse when you don't hear goodbye." This self-aware style of storytelling in his songwriting is what makes an album about some very dreary ideas – the absence of god, or any significant other — into a very fun ride.
Kellen's obvious influences include Neil Young, The Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel. Conceptually, though, Kellen Of Troy is closest to Big Star. Kellen trades in emotional resonance, and every factor of his music from his wry lyrics, to the delicately layered guitars, are built to evince timelessness. Wenrich is plying in painful, personal idiosyncrasies, turning them into thoughtful songs about love lost.
While country music is also an influence it's not readily apparent until "Great Heartbreaker," essentially a double-time honky-tonk. Electric, acoustic, and keys strike the heartstrings for a powerful chord on this rocker. Likewise, Kellen's bluegrass and violin past are subdued, but they are evident on the title track where a violin weeps quietly, with a touch of vocal reverb to give a sense of distance, and a telecaster riff to seal the deal. The pedal steel is used mostly for soundscaping effect but it makes a fantastic statement on "The Golden Rule" with an ingenious riff on the bridge. These small details combine over the listen of this true cover to-cover album, and it seems almost unbelievable that it was recorded at home with the help of friends.
Wenrich writes serene love songs, stitching interesting twists into each of his works. It's this detail that will make Kellen Of Troy's Posthumous Release --an album of tastefully adorned folk-rock with an attitude-- one of the must-hear albums of 2018.