Kevin McWha Steele just seems to pour his whole mind and soul into every recording he does, and “The Nightly Howl: The Ariel Trilogy – Part Two” aka “The Clamorous Owl That Nightly Howls and Wonders At Our Quaint Spirits” EP is not an exception to this. More subdued and less grandiose than much of what’s currently on radio, this record also seems more intimate and personal. Steele invents a new angle to classic art rock and singer-songwriter proceedings, and experiments with warm vocal melodies, acoustic textures, retro vibes, and an overall indie rock aesthetic. Steele’s voice is the main instrument here and it’s wonderful to hear that great falsetto. In their simplicity his vocals are just stunning. Besides a beautiful voice he has a wonderful talent for making music that is not able to be clearly defined. Listen to this on headphones and you will be very pleased at the artful way in which it’s mixed. This is almost a study to discover how simple and pure music can be.
Kevin McWha Steele is a poet and songwriter living in Brooklyn, NY. He writes and performs original songs in French and English, and has received songwriting accolades from Sting, Pink, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Philip Glass, Gary Lucas, Robert Wilson, among others.
This EP forms part of The Ariel Trilogy tracing the life of a musician in NYC for twenty years, from 2016-2036. The CDs are released in backwards chronology, with “Kevin McWha Steele” taking place in 2036, “The Nightly Howl” in 2026, and “Kooks” in 2016.
Throughout these recordings we can savor a great deal of what has always drawn people towards: the hypnotic atmospheres, the delicious harmonic and melodic washes, and the vulnerable moments of epiphany that contrast so much with what tows our ears under on a daily basis.
The airiness of the production provides more space for Steel’s unmistakable voice to drift about in its characteristic haunting expressiveness. The EP kicks off with the only English song “Front Page News”, which is also the most fleshed out production of the bunch.
A fully-fledged rhythm section drives the psychedelic groove and wailing electric guitars, as Steele lays his pinpoint narrative on the line: “Ya made front page news. Like the bitches with the shoes. And the new gurus. Front page news.” This is also the first single from the compilation.
There are only 3 songs on the EP, but Kevin McWha Steele crams each one with creativity, haunting sounds and beautiful songwriting, until there’s no room left. On “Les Choses Sont Pas Si Simples” the musical texture changes to acoustic, and Steele’s voice becomes its primary instrument alongside the poetry of its bittersweet tale: “Things are not so simple. When love, love goes away,” he sings.
Upon first listen, one will quickly notice how emotionally stunning the final two tracks are. Riddled with a sense of achingly beautiful melancholy, vulnerability, and angst, Steele manages to slowly pull you in. Each track leaving you more and more curious, and sounding more and more raw and honest.
“In the morning I often think of you. In the morning I get up from all my nightmares. I am ready for another stay. The one without you and without return. Next to you,” recites “A Côté de Toi”, which finds Kevin McWha Steele with just his guitar and voice in a live performance.
Again its Steele’s angelic voice and emotional poetry that captures your attention and holds it for the duration of the track. This music touches you deep within your heart and soul and unleashes emotions you may not know you were capable of expressing.
Considering most of it is in French, that is a formidable feat indeed. Kevin McWha Steele’s performances are accurate and the meaning of his lyrics is emoted through what is probably his own personal feelings. It’s this kind of soulfulness that makes him stand out.