Album Report: “St. Louis Is For Lovers” by Kijani Eshe

Kijani Eshe is onto something. Despite this St. Louis based musician’s presence in louder scenes, they have more recently been dedicated to fronting refreshingly quiet and subdued projects under the names Kiki and Sex Bam Bam. Kijani’s approach is similar in these two guises, as they lingeringly spin phrases and melodies up in endless but inconsistent repetition to a hypnotic degree. I’ve been fascinated every time I catch one of these acts, and even though this new release is by neither of them the Kijani mark shines through.

“St. Louis Is For Lovers” was released on the Sex Bam Bam Bandcamp page but the artist shows Kijani’s full name instead, leading me to assume that this is a solo project and that all of the music was performed by them. The style is similar, but this new project features an intention that I haven’t heard as full fledged in Sex Bam Bam before. As diffuse and meandering this release might appear to be on first listen I feel a subconscious mission statement radiating from it, and I find it quite easy to be enchanted by it.

The album opens and closes with “The Reckoning”, a beautiful synthesized loop that acts perhaps as an entrance and exit to Kijani’s psyche. It rides patient waves and lays down semi tense harmony that almost makes the body feel it developing, only for it to loop back once again. To my knowledge “The Reckoning” and “The Reckoning 2” are almost exactly the same, with the second one that closes the album clocking in at 2 seconds longer. It’s a disorienting way of book-ending the release, and it grants extra strength to the perceived concept.

As soon as we’re cleansed by “The Reckoning” we jump straight into the songs. All of them work well because of a sonic intention that serves the music. The production is unique and idiosyncratic while maintaining certain familiar sounds and ideas. Whether it’s on a cheerful piano, a more somber organ, or simple synthesized plucks and motifs, all of the compositions played are tactful and elegant. These chord progressions and melodies could be looped endlessly and they’d still feel right. The drums cut through the mix boldly, booming and bapping with no regard for the quiet personality of the project. The loud percussion can feel out of place for some, but to me it helps most tracks breath and maintain momentum.

The crown jewel of the sound is Kijani’s voice. The vocals are recorded in a way where a fair amount of distortion is created, which contrasts directly with the clean and synthetic instrumentals. Beautiful melodies crackle with the slightest sign of loudness, an effect heightened by Kijani’s often drawn back performance. The first word that comes to mind is lo-fi, and in my mind a lo-fi sound can be the result of artistic intention or of contextual limitations. Rather than figuring out what was the case here, I concentrate on how the vocal production offers the project a more full fledged sonic concept and personality, whether it’s intentional or not. Kijani’s dwindling, heartwarming melodies feel like spiritual voicemail from their mind, and when I listen I can’t help feeling a certain connection with it, as if the voicemail was for me (metaphysically speaking, of course).

We start our journey with “Real”, a confident and inquisitive love song ignited by vocals that twist and turn arbitrarily as a small piano pounds away atop the huge sounds of the kick and snare. This song gives form to a representation of the themes we’ll encounter throughout this album mostly centered around “real love”, Kijani’s role within this idea, and what all this entails. Both the verse and the chorus are performed over the same instrumental, but they still manage to keep their own identity and inspire different emotional reactions that complement each other because of slight nuance in style and register. This will be the case for a number of the tunes on here. “Dugout” switches to silk synth pads and barks (?) to bed a stuttering verse melody that contrasts deeply with the long-winded and vocalized chorus. Kijani sings of friends and oneself second guessing romantic intentions from an almost out of body perspective as the beat pounds away with slight developments. The repetitive instrumentals could make songs feel stale for some, but the small hints of nuance injected throughout them paired with Kijani’s melodic sensibility leaves me hooked and humbled by the perceived simplicity.

“Ghost” and “Ode To Vulnerability” lead us outside of the album’s realm in a more reserved and emotional fashion. “Ghost” slows down the tempo and adds a small organ, resulting in a haunting but endearing instrumental. The implication in the song title comes through on the striking chorus adorned by a bubbly synth line; Kijani sings “it’s like I was never even there” over and over, switching the phrase up and offering deep sentiment both in the melody and the performance. “Ode To Vulnerability”, my personal favorite, features a hungry rumble bass line underneath that leaves to clear out space when needed, different synth pad textures that share space while performing drawn out chords, and a cute melodic motif that tail ends the chord progression. We hear Kijani layering more vocals and pushing the edge of the voice distortion as the palette of textures dances atop lazy and obtuse drums. It’s a touching way to close the project out before “The Reckoning 2” takes us back to real life.

The pace of the album is pleasant and stimulating. The instrumental tracks “I’m not dead inside you’re dead inside” and “Dedication” let the tracklist exhale and leave the listener waiting patiently for Kijani’s next vocal melody. The first one is short but dramatic, with a church organ playing an off putting chord progression along to a confident, trotting beat. “Dedication” is longer and relies on an organ melody playing over erratic drums that feel randomized and strange. I think three minutes is a little bit of a stretch for this instrumental when comparing to the others in the album, but the payoff when “Ghost” finally comes in is undeniable.

In its nature “St. Louis Is For Lovers” is messy, confusing and rough around the edges, but it is this loose personality that makes it so infectious and cohesive. It’s an album kept together by its constant elements: the dreary textures in the instrumentals, the relentless drum sounds pounding away, and of course Kijani Eshe’s astounding melodic sensibility. The production serves the project well, adding to the consistent palette presented to us. It feels conceptual although it doesn’t overstate it, and the concept appears so deeply personal that a sure fire conclusion becomes unnecessary and out of place. Whether it’s voicemail, telepathy, inward reflection or screams to the skies coming from Kijani’s mind doesn’t matter, because we’re within and it feels better to close our eyes and drift away.

Listen to “St. Louis Is Made For Lovers” via Bandcamp down below:

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