monoblogue music: “Empty Mansions” by C. K. Flach
I’m here to tell you this is one of the most unusual releases I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing.
While C. K. Flach is not a complete stranger to the music business – the New York-based singer/songwriter’s bio states he’s performed for a few years in a band called The Kindness, which put out an EP in 2015 – his first solo album is a nine-song, one-poem stream of consciousness about life. As he describes the recording process, Flach did most of it himself, but “recruited friends and family as needed to complete certain songs.” One of them is an unnamed female singer who provides harmony vocals on some of the tracks, but apparently he played most of the instruments.
In my mind’s eye I can picture Flach holed up in a little apartment/studio someplace in upstate New York, spending hours making sure every note is just so. If anything, the album seems to me a bit fussy. It starts out well enough with the song Lazurus, which let me know that Flach has a voice that reminds me of a country singer but plays songs that have an acoustic sensibility combined with a feel for the adult contemporary genre. In that same vein, he bills Boxcar Dancing as the single; a song that melds a nice lyric line with an almost contrived “sha-la-la” ending.
There are also songs on “Empty Mansions” though that make for hard listening – not hard in a musical sense or as terribly bad songs, but songs that make you wonder just what kind of upbringing and influence were there to drive him to write such music. These are songs with simple titles like Munich, Tranquilized, and Calamity. And besides the spoken word final track called Firmament, there are spoken word interludes in Munich and Queen Caroline, an almost bluesy ballad about a “sad, sad girl.” Flach definitely falls in the mold of one who believes lyrics are poetry, and sometimes music just gets in the way.
Flach shows some different sides on some of the songs – being quite sarcastic on The Officer, putting together an antiwar screed on Machine Gun, and revealing that’s he’s “sick of Elvis, sick of politics” on the title track. Empty Mansions is perhaps the most accessible song from a radio standpoint, but it falls in the midst of Flach’s social commentary side of the release. There may be listeners who don’t make it that far because there is a sameness to the songs that may turn off some who would check it out, and this may be a by-product of doing most of the work himself as opposed to having a band with several different opinions on how songs should be crafted.
This is an album that would appeal to people who like their music challenging and thought-provoking, as it’s 180 degrees away from most of the mindless pop that permeates the commercial airwaves. “Empty Mansions” is definitely an album that falls under the category of acquired taste, but if you want to listen for yourself, Flach has set up sites to do so.