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Mike Coykendall

The Unbearable Being of Likeness

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Field Hymns

The range of emotions that music can inspire in listeners is nearly endless. Music can make us feel like laughing, crying, rolling our eyes in disgust or disemboweling the bastards at iTunes who scammed us out of eight bucks. It can make us want to hug somebody, hit somebody, start a band, reconnect with an old friend or leave a lover. A record can make us feel less alone or more alone, full of hope or void of it. Mike Coykendall’s The Unbearable Being of Likeness is a record unlike anything I’ve heard in a very long while. It leaves me feeling, well, nothing at all.

It’s not a terrible effort by any means, and Coykendall is clearly a capable musician who incorporates elements of blues, folk, psychedelic and classic rock, pretty expertly, into his songs. And he’s certainly no amateur, having garnered a modest but devout cult-like following as both a solo artist and a member of the Old Joe Clarks. He’s also produced, engineered or recorded with M. Ward, Bright Eyes and Beth Orton, among others. But whatever magic was spawned during those collaborations is mostly absent from The Unbearable Being of Likeness, which often sounds too damn perfunctory. Coykendall may be loaded with talent and vision, but he seems to be just going through the motions this time around.

The inauspicious start certainly doesn’t help, as opener “Good One” treats listeners to such banal declarations as “Good one, that was a good one/ Nice one, that was a nice one/ You’re gonna pay the price for the right one.” Lyrics like this may do wonders for the Black Eyed Peas, but when you’re a serious artist with high expectations from your followers, you’d better conjure something with a little more substance. Likewise, “Spacebaker Blues” (“I get stoned every night/ Just trying to make it right“) is littered with the kind of half-baked meditations that someone misconstrues as meaningful only after three bong hits. Topically, the record is pretty abstract, loaded with ambiguous statements (“It’s raining inside/ So where to now?/ I used to know why/ But I don’t know how“) that fail to spark much emotion from the listener. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with lyrics that leave room for interpretation, especially when, like Coykendall, an artist is able to incorporate numerous instruments and styles into a unified sound. But when the lyrics fail to elicit a meaningful response, they simply fall flat.

The album isn’t a complete loss, as three songs in the middle – the workmanlike “Bye-Bye-Baby-O,” the lushly arranged Petty-like “First Shot, Best Shot” and the rollicking “Sold Your Closet Paintings” – are so solid and complete that they sound like products of not only an entirely different album but of a whole different artist. Perhaps the strongest track, the haunting and moving closer “Wonderland” both showcases Coykendall’s surprising vocal range and demonstrates an emotional edge that much of the album lacks. If the artist were able to channel a sliver of the ambitious qualities of these four songs throughout the entire record, it would be no unbearable task for listeners to embrace The Unbearable Being of Likeness.

Unfortunately, these scarce diamonds aren’t able to outshine the roughest of rough spots, and those who are unfamiliar with the singer’s body of work aren’t likely to jump aboard the Coykendall bandwagon after hearing these 11 songs. There’s good music in here, sure – but it’s a four-track EP only, not a full-length album, and most listeners will probably have tuned out, feeling nothing at all, long before the few strong songs appear.

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