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Handwriting’ is a transcendent experience

Matthew Solarski | Thursday, March 24, 2005

Does the wide world of indie music really need another precocious, rurally-raised American wunderkind named Conor? All right, so perhaps he spells it with two n’s and obfuscates it further by adopting the phonetically-equivalent sobriquet “Khonnor,” but the background of Vermont’s Connor Kirby-Long will invariably evoke comparisons to that other Conor all the kids are talking about – Conor Oberst, of Nebraska. As “Khonnor,” Kirby-Long crafts heartfelt, introspective bedroom pop for the fuzzed-out information age. As weapon of choice, he employs not the guitar (although guitars have their say on “Handwriting”) but the laptop computer, baptizing his musings in colorful swirls of noise and textured electronics. The result, to coin a portmanteau of sorts, is luscious “bedtop pop.”This music Khonnor concocts falls somewhere along the vast landscape stretching from trailblazing IDM artists like Fennesz and Dntel to heartstring-pullers Death Cab For Cutie and Oberst’s outfit, Bright Eyes. Kirby-Long wears his influences proudly upon his sleeve, just as he laundry-lists them in the “thank you” section of the liner notes: Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, and The Walkmen (who, bizarrely enough, he thanks twice). Given his tender age of seventeen, Khonnor showcases an impressively evolved taste in music.The thirteen songs on “Handwriting” are hardly songs at all, at least in the traditional sense. Rather, they are records of instances, flashes of memory and emotion, passing impressions, drifting across the room like midday shadows of clouds. When this record works best, as on the soaring “Megans Present” or the woozy, somnambulant “Daylight And Delight,” the effect is practically chill inducing. In the proper context, such as a post-date midnight drive home, the melodies and atmospherics here could serve as tinder for a blossoming romance, or even resurrect a moribund one.In many ways, “Handwriting” is the record Bright Eyes’ “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” could have been, and indeed Khonnor with a K demonstrates an acumen for electronic arrangements that easily trumps that of the with a C. Lyrically, the younger Khonnor lags far behind the elder Conor – but then he lags behind in years, too, and lyrical revelation seems the least important aim of “Handwriting.” However, whereas the music induces chills, the lyrics do on occasion induce cringes. Much of Khonnor’s script admittedly reads like notebook marginalia, scrawled during a moment’s afflatus in one of the high school classes he purportedly hates (in fact, the young man cheekily declares in the liner notes that “no portion of this album’s profit” will go to his high school). And not even a heavenly choir of angels could render lyrics like “these plastic plates” and “sliced like mother’s chicken breast” in a mellifluous manner.One could also consider “Handwriting” an abstracted answer to the Postal Service’s electro-pop milestone, “Give Up.” The music operates in much the same way, embellishing lyrical climaxes and creating exalted moments of its own in between. Yet the swells of distortion and relative lack of verse-chorus structure place “Handwriting” in a realm decidedly far from that of radio-groomed pop music.Although vindicated to an extent by his youth, Khonnor blunders from time to time, particularly when he mars otherwise gorgeous arrangements with needless high-pitched vocal distortion. However, it is through these very shortcomings that Khonnor avoids the ultimate tragedy – releasing a perfect record at age seventeen.