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Phil Aiken

Don't Look Down

Release Date: 03.04.03
Record label: BMI
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.


Buffalo Boy Goes Solo with Haunting Success
by: paul schrodt

Listen to the moment in "Lose Yourself," right before the drums start in, when the keys of a piano are stroked from high to low. Or observe Aiken jolt out the word "mess" like a wicked electric serpent in "Missouri Arcade." And hear the eerie harmonization of the piano and his gloomy voice in "Don't Look Down." Consider, and then play it again. At first listen, this is a very good album with catchy and imaginative songwriting, and at second, a haunting piece of work with the kind of nuances that will linger in your head for days.

Before becoming the keyboardist for Buffalo Tom, Phil Aiken was always the songwriter of whatever band he was in. But it's been six-and-a-half years since then, and Phil Aiken has decided to "take the reins" again. His new solo album is called Don't Look Down. It is 10 tracks in length and took about two years to make. Aiken is listed on the CD credits as conducting the lead vocals, pianos, organs, synths, samplers and alto saxophone. He also produced and mixed nearly the entire thing. After digesting this information, I figured Aiken's creativity, not to mention hands, must be worn to a frazzle. He told me they are not. Apparently, most of the time was spent learning how to turn the knobs.

The songs, primarily recorded in a home studio, sound somewhat cluttered and diluted. On a Tchaikovsky disc, I would find this to be reason for offense. But since this is Mr. Phil, the songs have a creepy resonance that is their own. There is an atmosphere, an attitude of hostility and cynicism, that made me feel all cozy inside. Aiken is actually very funny here. Many songs lash out on romances or friends with resentment, but it's clever, amusing resentment. This is especially true on tracks like "Lose Yourself," "Missouri Arcade," and "Don't Look Down." This is where the album is at its best.

There are a few slow points in Don't Look Down. Despite being only 10 songs long, I think it would've been better off at about eight. All the songs have a similar tempo, and that can become repetitive after one too many listens.

But Aiken makes up for lost time with his nice assortment of wisely used instruments. Each song has a new execution that is its own while still noticeably part of a single work. The music in "Edison" is truly memorable, functioning with Aiken's backstabbing love lyrics effortlessly.

Looking back on it, I realize every single song has a really great line. A couple are boring overall, most are constantly sharp, but all of them have that one classic line. Screenwriting instructor Robert McKee once said that your story can be dreadful, just as long as you wow the audience with a great ending. That's not really true, but it sure does help. 14-Jun-2003 4:42 PM