Kevin Hufnagel is new to me. I believe he has a background in metal but he is not someone whose music has crossed my path, at least until now when I received his latest solo effort - Ashland - in my In-Box for review. Ashland is not metal. It contains two very interesting styles of expression: dense ’folktronic' walls-of-sound, and rather delicate solo classical baritone ukulele instead of his usual instrument, the guitar.
The dense 'folktronic' walls-of-sound are wonderfully dissonant, sounding wrong somehow yet really working. Layers of acoustic sounds come together to create delightfully full-on walls-of-sound. ‘Ancestral Instinct’ is a wonderful opener that intrigues the listener and offers so much potential - potential that is fulfilled in ‘The Otherness’, the other track of this type on Ashland, with the layers of sound and some solo ukulele work combined.
The rest of the album involves Hufnagel's solo classical ukulele work. He is a skillful guitarist and these pieces have an air technical authority about them - they have a baroque feel to them that is endearing. When a delay effect is included (for example on ‘The Gift’) then this ukulele approach really works for me. However, when he is all alone it can seem rather sparse and in need of something more to give a fuller sound.
The solo Hufnagel ukulele-only tracks suffer from a lack of melody that suggests noodly improv, but then this is the downside with this kind of solo work and has been since the days of Baroque 'n' roll.
I am more interested in Hufnagel's music when he is experimenting with ’folktronic’ soundscapes (which are remarkable) or adding delay to his classical ukulele work. The solo ukulele work needs something added to retain my interest for extended periods, a little additional seasoning so to speak such as the percussive element to ‘Paths Crossed’.
Don't get me wrong, Hufnagel's solo work isn't bad or offensive in any way, and he certainly demonstrates that he has chops when it comes to his instrument of choice, but when I hear ‘Perpetual Shadow’, ‘Figures at Dawn’ and ‘Courtyard’, I have no real need to hear anymore (with the exception of ‘Paths Crossed’). Ashland could have easily finish after the first 6 tracks and I would have sat back, fully satisfied that I've had an excellent, albeit novel, listening experience.
That's not to write Hufnagel off by any means. I would love to hear him perform Ashland live. I think this would give the added context I need to move this album from endearing and interesting, to essential.
Worth a listen if you like something a bit different with his solo classical ukulele, ’folktronic’ soundscapes, or are familiar with Hufnagel's previous work.