Jon McKiel

(You've Changed)


At a time when easily digestible interpretations of the tried and the tested are the norm, it’s refreshing to come across an album as thoroughly drenched in a defiantly idiosyncratic vision as Hex.

However, the second album by Canadian musician Jon McKiel couldn’t be further removed from forebodingly ear-endangering avant-garde convulsions: the canvas the New Brunswick-based songwriter and musical collage constructor splatters his aural paints on might be skewered and more than slightly tattered around the edges, but we’re essentially dealing with tunes with a capital ‘T’ here.

Recorded and produced with JOYFULTALK’s Jay Crocker, Hex occupies a familiar terrain to anyone smitten with McKiel’s cult debut Bobby Joe Hope from 2020. Since then, however, sampling techniques have been added to McKiel’s lo-fi psych-pop toolkit, with potently hypnotic results.

The title track’s naggingly infectious hooks nest on top of endlessly looped re-runs of McKiel reciting the tune’s central refrain, at least doubling the already considerable catchiness and infusing the track’s sparse and sundried ingredients with an unstoppable momentum that brings to mind prime Gene Clark channeling the woozy patchwork scratchiness of early Beck, but with the latter’s goofiness replaced by a spooked intensity.

It’s certainly a track capable of casting a spell (if not an actual hex) on the listener, but ‘String’ is even better. Constructed of threadbare elements that seemingly bear little relation or resemblance to one another, the track’s off-kilter, unsteady gallop (again topped with a melody that’s impossible to shake off when encountered once or twice) seems at the verge of disintegrating, but gradually accrues a majestic glow, especially once the quicksilver lead guitar that floats like a cosmically inclined blend of J.J. Cale’s earthiness and the lysergic flights of Jerry Garcia enters the frame.

While the rest of Hex doesn’t quite scale the same heights, the quality control never wavers. From the melancholy Beach Boys swoon of ‘The Fix’ and the woozy pop of ‘Lady’s Mantle’ (imagine a punch-drunk Jeff Tweedy track trying its very best to stay upright amidst the brazing breezes of McKiel’s native North Atlantic coast) to the mutant funk of ‘Under Burden’ and steel drum-channeling loops of ‘Still Life’, this album offers a hugely compelling testimonial to the enduring creative potential of an imaginatively distorted pop song.