Kiefer - Happysad
Imagine that you left your old '80s Casio keyboard sitting in your parent's basement for 30 years, and one day it hums to life and starts pumping out hypnotic, half-decayed melodies that sound like old-school George Duke jams filtered through a Casio from outer space via funky ancient alien technology, and you'll get a sense of the kind of familiar yet otherworldly vibe captured on Kiefer's sophomore album, 2018's Happysad. A follow-up to his compelling debut, 2017's Kickinit Alone, Happysad once again finds keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Kiefer Shackelford (aka Kiefer), working out a series of emotive, groove-based instrumentals that balance his love of jazz, hip-hop, and fractured electronic production. A graduate of UCLA's jazz studies program, Kiefer was mentored by legendary guitarist Kenny Burrell, and gigged throughout Southern California while developing his own bedroom, electronic, hip-hop-jazz sound. That he also collaborated on projects with artists like Jonwayne, Iman Omari, Mndsgn, and others speaks to his broad skill set and cross-pollinated taste. Here, he produces and plays all the instruments save for several guest spots from associates like trombonist Jonah Levine on the woozy opening track "Dope Nerd," and guitarist Paul Castelluzzo and drummer Kaytranada on the grin-inducing, '90s R&B groover "Temper." There's a similarly fun throwback aura to "Magnetic," which plays like the intro to a hot, '90s Janet Jackson ballad you never heard. Conversely, "Socially Awkward" displays his Herbie Hancock-esque jazz chops; his fingers spiraling across the keys as a blown-out hip-hop beat pulses beneath him. Elsewhere, he takes a more conceptual approach, as on "Memories of U," which sounds like a vintage field recording of a gospel pianist whose song has been reworked in the studio with a dreamy layer of organ and a drum machine. Yet even more evocative is "Agoraphobia," which sounds like an '80s infomercial theme, captured on video tape and played 30 years later with all the requisite tape drag and distortion artfully orchestrated into the melody by Kiefer. What's subtly innovative about Kiefer's music is that while he uses his own digitally crafted beats, he largely avoids samples. Consequently, his harmonic components (his solos, chord voicings, and overall soundscapes) are all improvised and worked out in the studio. Ultimately, what could sound like average contemporary jazz fluff, in Kiefer's hands sounds instead like the liquid dreams of jazz-funk aliens.