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On the Block: Mortal Love - Tommy Kessler

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

This post is written by Justin "J Co." Corp - engineer at Second Street LLC. Justin has worked at several recording studios in Chicago and has a Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Music from Millikin University.



"Indie" is a genre that is absolutely impossible to describe, and it gets even harder to categorize with every new addition. At the beginning, "indie" simply referred to the fact that there is no record label present during production. Now, it's nearly synonymous with the DIY scene, where the goal is to keep every step of the process as internal as possible. Because the standard production process includes writing, producing, performing, tracking, editing, mixing, and promotion, finding one person to do it all at a high level is quite the difficult task. Luckily, Chicago is one of the epicenters of the DIY movement, and a multi-talented musician has been climbing up through the scene. Tommy Kessler's new series of releases Modern Love I and Modern Love II showcases the best that our DIY scene has to offer.


Background



"St. Louis-raised, Chicago-based guitarist, songwriter, producer, and vocalist."


"Poetry, philosophy, fiction & film. Based in Chicago, IL."



Tommy Kessler is an artist of multiple disciplines with a lot to say - with skill in poetry, songwriting, and performance, he takes influence from everywhere he can. In fact, this marks my first time writing about a writer. Kessler is a frequent blogger on Medium, an open platform where over 100 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. He is also a contributor to the late-punk/noise scene of Chicago, most recently in the form of remixing existing compositions.


While the majority of independent artists release about one project each year - or maybe twice a year - Tommy Kessler has released 23 tracks in 2022 thus far. His most recent series of releases, Mortal Love I & Mortal Love II come in the midst of a renaissance for the 25 year-old producer.

Less than two weeks following his remix of "Liquorsong" by local artist Damager, Kessler released the first third of his latest work on August 12, 2023. This series of works is entirely self-produced, self-mixed, and self-recorded - true to the Chicago DIY scene. This collection of three songs is a darker, more distorted take on his signature Blues/D&B hybrid style of production. September 16 brought the arrival of Mortal Love II, and for the sake of analysis, I'll be taking the project in whole into consideration today.


What Does It Sound Like?


I've been lucky enough to catch each wave of songs within the week that they were released. Likewise, both of them became soundtracks to my daily commute on the bus (147 - Outer DuSable Lake Shore Express). The leadoff track, "I'm in Love with Everyone," is a surging electronic stream-of-consciousness piece. Kessler embraces repetition with terraced instrumentation. Every eight bars brings another beautifully-distorted melody until the song finally disperses into silence. A lot of responsibility lives on the first track of the project by virtue of being first, and cheers to Tommy Kessler for presenting such a thought-provoking, attention-grabbing ballad.


Mortal Love as a whole is an enigma that falls between pop, industrial, and orchestral music. The melodies are simple and cascading.

The rhythm section gives a backbeat worthy of grooving. The keys are psychotic, with the exception of one solo piano line (see "Ballad of Marty Rochester"). Between each song's mysterious conclusion is a seamless transition. One of Kessler's sonic signatures is progressing from one bassline to another - each one with a different personality from the rest. Likewise, the project is reminiscent of a Jack White track: distortion anywhere and everywhere, but fully intelligible and digestible.



What Does It Feel Like?


The album as a whole is obviously crafted by a poet. Each song features a concise set of lyrics that are equally profound and absurd. This is especially showcased in the track "Quarterdeath," where Kessler splits the track with a sample stating, "We may well become one of the Left Behind Generation." Mortal Love II continues the trail of distortion left behind from Mortal Love I into a new proclamatory era. The background vocals on the chorus on "The Exception" only further dig in the meaning for the entire project - see the recent poem by Kessler titled "June":

 

Underlying every word

ever spoken is the fact

mortal love begets fear.

These words mean

this much:

when you fear yourself,

you fear what you love.*

-

*No for; they who does

not die is the exception.


 

As the project reaches "River Lethe," Tommy Kessler begins to transcend the rest of the album. The track is nasty, spooky, and groovy as hell. Above the synth tracks that are tremolo-ing so hard that they sound like aliens is a *haunting* poem. In a rumbling voice, Kessler narrates a story about a river that transcends time and invites death. With another seamless transition, "Jacob's a Winner" continues the simple melody that has become comforting over time. Alternating with the percussion/bass focused verses is a truly cryptic guitar line that accompanies the chorus. Now, we're left with a longing for more.


What's Next?


Tommy Kessler is an ambitious, motivated artist. As such, you can already find Kessler's remix of Pinksqueeze's "Midday Midnight" on streaming services - which will release on the same day that this feature is published. Also in 2022, fans can look forward to The Wiener Tape (a Chicago remix compilation coming to Bandcamp December 2, 2022) and of course Mortal Love III (scheduled to release on October 14). Looking forward to seeing some of this new project performed live? Check out his upcoming performance at Chicago's Golden Dagger on October 11.


Have you listened to both parts yet? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments below! Also, don't forget to follow Tommy Kessler on social media, and don't stop listening to local artists.






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