By Tim Rayne
Who is KoAk? To be honest, I don’t really know. KoAk’s Bandcamp page states that the ‘band’ consists solely of multi-instrumentalist Ian Wilson who has been playing music since the early 2000s. I know that his Bandcamp description mentions both Fredericton and Shanghai. He also refers to his music as ‘bedroom folk pop rock’. Other than the aforementioned Bandcamp info, that is all I know about KoAk. The album, Light Rock Rooftop was released in late November of last year. There was no hype, there was no release party, and there was no media exposure about the album; other than when I played a few tracks on the CHSR show called Spotlight, last month.
I simply stumbled on his album one day when I was searching ‘Fredericton’ on Bandcamp. Finding exciting new music keeps the blood pumping and the soul moving. There is no shortage of talent in the Fredericton area. Right when I thought I might have a good grasp of what’s up and coming in the scene, an album like Light Rock Rooftop drops. No one in Fredericton sounds like KoAk. As a point of reference, I can hear a little Beach Boys, Grand Daddy, Soft Parade period Flaming Lips, along with a little Yo La Tengo, but in the end KoAk has his own sound. I mean, he even has a song entitled (I am just) A One Man Band.
The eight tracks on the album are lush with beautiful arrangements, the vocals border on soft whispers, fragile and delicate, yet confident in its delivery. The use of reverb in the vocals, especially in the song, I’ll Imagine, evokes a shoegazer influence but not in its instrumentation. There is also an intimacy in both the music and lyrics. Wilson writes about being free in the song, Caged Bird, the song ends with the lyrics ‘Sing or Die’, a confession for the absolute need to have artistic expression in one’s life.
There are numerous instruments at play on the album; banjo, drums, acoustic guitar, bass drum, harmonica, keys, along with various effects and sound manipulation. The overall production is a definite highlight; Wilson is able to keep the mix full without overwhelming the listener. The skill, I believe, is in his ability to have the album’s rich arrangements appear subtle, however upon closer listen you will pick up on a complex composition made up of multilayered textures and sounds.
The entire album deserves to be heard. There isn’t a weak song in the bunch and none overstay their welcome. In fact, that is KoAk’s strength, he creates catchy pop music that is refined and seasoned. It comes as no surprise that Ian Wilson has been writing and playing music for over a decade because he understand an important element to what makes good pop music, less is more. Yes, the arrangements are full and lush but he knows to keep them short and to never over stay their welcome; therefore the album warrants welcomed multiple listens.
In the end, KoAk’s Light Rock Rooftop is an excellent album from what could be Fredericton’s (Shanghai’s?) own basement (bedroom) musician. The mystery surrounding KoAk’s identity and music only highlights its whimsical sound. Highly Recommended.
Tim Rayne @TimARayne
Tim is station manager at CHSR 97.9FM and a tireless supporter of arts in Fredericton. He is also the host of Fredericton’s morning show, Instant Breakfast. Check him out: 8:00AM – 9:00AM Monday-Friday.