Album Review: Corey Kilgannon – As Above, So Below

Known for his politically charged and witty songwriting, Corey Kilgannon might be the most intelligent, fascinating songwriter I’ve found in years. His name has been floating around the indie music scene for a while, but this 2019 release As Above, So Below is at a completely different level. You can’t just listen to this album once; it’s more like the kind of contemplative writing that requires dozens of listens before you have an inkling of meaning. This is not just an album, it’s a work of art.

“The Ballad of Radiant Phaedrus” is the most existential song I’ve heard all year. It’s about macro political concerns and personal circumstances. For some of us, it’s the political commentary that we wish our elected officials could articulate. Imagine having an elected representative who could make a reference to Greek philosophy, let alone effectively referencing Phaedrus…

The title track “As Above, So Below” feels like a traditional folk ballad. I’ll be blunt; this will contend for song of the year for me. It’s a fascinating blend of hard hitting Joe Purdy style lyricism with a throwback to the orchestral compositions of classics like Simon and Garfunkel. The references to drugs, creativity, and political consciousness is the kind of thing that could unite the generations. Why can’t we all just get along? When he said, “blue collar white man’s oppression” in a perfectly sociological context, I decided this was a must-cover album. The social consciousness is dripping.

“The Oasis” has that lovely Townes Van Zandt style narrative to it. I love the whistling (because who doesn’t?), but it’s really the lonesomeness that Kilgannon captures that resonates with me. “Red tape is a dead man’s religion” feels like a gospel line to me. The overall style is captivating from start to finish on this one. The easy going folk style contrasts perfectly well with the hard hitting lyrics.

“Home of the Estranged” is another fascinating tune about the utopian idea of humans getting along with one another. It’s clear that Kilgannon is the ideological successor to some of the progressive voices in 60s folk culture. I’ve never heard someone tackle a historical topic like the Trail of Tears in such a unique and captivating way. This is a brilliant track.

“The Progress of Man” begins with some thoughtful clips of world leaders talking about nuclear war. It’s such a wild place to begin a track of progress, but of course Kilgannon’s sardonic writing style permeates from these places of conflict. The placid vocal style feels like it could be from a peaceful Christmas album, but instead it outlines the “digging our own graves” reality of 20th century and early 21st century life. The concept of the “progress of man” leaving good people in its wake… wow, powerful.

The contemplative “Ashamed” is about toxic masculinity without using those terms exactly. The lyrics are unbelievably poignant. It is, of course, rooted in the #MeToo Movement, but one gets the impression that Kilgannon was already aware of this situation long before the national movement. The expressive powerlessness in the lyrics are… in a word, stunning. Just listen.

“The South Will Soon Rise” is an AMAZING song about southern life and culture. I get the distinct impression Kilgannon does not care who he offends with his music, which makes him even more of the Woody Guthrie mold of songwriter. In a similar vein, the final track “Fishing Feminist” even has a banjo. His poignant political commentary comes through on this one. Kilgannon embodies the indie music scene, allowing himself to write about controversial topics in a way that has zero concern for radio or commercial appeal. People who like Kilgannon’s style and politics will find him.

I’d love to sit down and chat with Kilgannon. There’s a lot we agree on. There are a few things that I’d love to share stories and ideas about. But I am fascinated to meet the man behind this songwriting. I’m hoping that I can catch him live in the area soon so that we can have some of these conversations. The album has hard hitting lyricism and deep, often-concerning cynicism. If you feel lonely and alienated in the modern political world, this album is for you.

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