It’s still weird when a formerly bad band does something unequivocally great. Kenny Vasoli’s Person L has managed it, and I’m literally flabbergasted. The Starting Line made magic here and there (that one song on Direction, the one where he missed a girl, etc.), but they were never really anything other than what they appeared. From the first complex moments of mostly instrumental opener “Hole In The Fence,” it becomes obvious that Person L’s previous problems, namely the frustrating inclination to sit stagnant instead of explode, are long gone. With Person L, he has truly unchained himself from every shackle being a pop-punk icon brings with it. And he didn’t have to go metal like the ugliest guy from Fall Out Boy or go stupid like Gabe Saporta. He just went creative, and sure, maybe he listened to too many Radiohead albums, but most people would tell you that’s a good thing. But even more importantly than The Positves’ successes is the fact that Vasoli has reached his full potential. Somewhere, he’s smiling.
My initial hang-up with Person L was always Kenny’s voice. After belting out broken heart mantras throughout my (continuing) youth, how would he handle more serious, ethereal fare? I finally stopped wondering during “Good Days.” Treated with slight echoed effects, Vasoli’s voice lends an emotional edge to the song’s simple construction before a snare-heavy drum section and guitar solo layered in gloop close the song in truly triumphant fashion. One can almost hear the years of pop-punk rigidity fall away.
Someone described The Positives to me as, “Explosions in the Sky meets Radiohead meets something idiots can like,” and although I assume they were talking down to me, I still agree. It’s all at once hard to take in and easy to swallow. The instrumental sections tend to find a riff or fill they like and repeat them to death, but the parts are so intriguing that you don’t mind. Plus, Kenny is dropping lines that he never would have before: “And you changed so much / So you might want to be someone else / Run the risk of being an impressionist / Cause we should all become ourselves.” On most tracks, he sees fit to let his voice float above rather than drive through the music. Even on the blues-rock interpretation “Sit Tight”, Vasoli works with the heavy bass line instead of trumping it. If Person L do one thing right, it’s share. Nobody fights for dominance, which allows the listener to sit back while the band highlights the strongest moments. I wonder if this is producer Aaron Marsh’s genius at work. On second thought, I know this is Aaron Marsh’s genius at work.
I hate and like “Changed Man.” A weak Raconteurs-on-David Bowie rip-off, it’s still pretty amazing to hear this coming from Vasoli. Yes, fine, that’s a backhanded insult, but can you blame me? He succeeds much more readily on slightly speedier fare, like the retrofied rock of “Pleasure Is All Mine” and the dark pop of “Untitled.” The latter track is closest to his earlier work, but it works much harder than any Starting Line song. At 5+ minutes, he can’t simply find a hook that works and slap a riff around it. Now each member must contribute thoroughly, because it’s simply not loud enough to pull the wool over our eyes. And then there’s “I Sing The Body Electric.” It’s unabashedly blissed out and clearly influenced by Minus The Bear, a strategic move that uses Vasoli’s scratchy voice to add a new depth to MTB’s typically silky smooth formula. The song’s 7-minute skeleton allows for tonal and even genre changes, yet it’s clearly one concept worked to its most satisfying conclusions. Surprises lurk everywhere, and for Vasoli, that in and of itself is a surprise.