- Brett Willis
"Kenaston" Solo Piano II, Chilly Gonzales
Before we get into my jibber jabber around why I enjoy the song "Kenaston" by Chilly Gonzales, I think it makes sense to simply have you listen to it. Here it is, below.
I considered listing Chilly Gonzales’ entire album, Solo Piano II, as something I like—but, in the end, that felt imprecise. There are some lovely songs on that album; for me, the standouts are: “White Keys,” “Nero’s Nocturne,” “Othello,” and “Papa Gavotte.” But nothing on that album, nor in Chilly Gonzales’ extensive, eclectic oeuvre, comes close, for me, to “Kenaston.”
No amount of searching or digging gave me Chilly’s thoughts behind “Kenaston.” Nothing about its key, chord progression, the song’s inspiration, or the story behind the name. Wiki-ing my way through it, I found that Kenaston is a town of 282 people, located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. I wish I had more to give on the background, but, in a way, it would have also been unnecessary. The song has no lyrics to parse, and consists of simply one instrument, the piano, and the mood it creates.
So, before we get into the song, let’s cover Chilly Gonzales the artist. Born Jason Charles Beck, Chilly was classically trained in piano at McGill University. In the early 1990s, he joined Canadian Pop (C-pop?) group Son, and, within their 3-record deal with Warner Music Canada, had the mini-hit “Why don’t you pick up the phone.” To give you, I think, the most salient detail about Son’s style, they were an opening act for Barenaked Ladies.
After burning out with Son, Jason moved to Berlin, Germany, became Chilly, and started releasing club bangers under the eclectic “Kitty Yo” label. While there, he landed the hit “Let’s Groove Again” which sounds to me like a Daft Punk song that huffed gasoline.
You might also recognize Chilly’s song “Never Stop” from an iPad 2 commercial. There are distinct “Sinnerman” vibes to this song, though I suppose piano and clapping would make anything sound like “Sinnerman.”
If it’s not already obvious, I am not a giant fan of Chilly’s non-solo-piano work. I don’t love his voice, or his lyrics.
But his solo piano albums, oh his solo piano albums, that’s where Chilly shines. Solo Piano, the original, has wonderful tunes in “Dot” and “Oregano” (which DEFINITELY owes something to “Sinnerman”). Solo Piano II, I covered. Solo Piano III hasn’t stuck with me, for whatever reason. That being said, there are some objectively beautiful pieces on it: “Prelude in C Sharp Major,” “Ellis Eye,” and “October 3rd.”
And then we have “Kenaston.” Soothing. Melancholic. Gorgeous.
“Kenaston” is not repetitive, to my ear. There also doesn't seem to be a wasted note or unnecessary flourish to it. Everything fits together perfectly. To go further, it sounds like each note is meant to be there, as if any change would sunder the whole construct.
Actually, as I wrote this, I was wondering why I even felt the need to mention Chilly’s less-than-perfect musical track record. At first, I think it was a sort of defensive maneuver. My way of saying, oh, believe me, I get it that he’s not the best musician ever. But, upon deeper reflection, I think it’s a bit more selfish. What I mean is, if Chilly Gonzales—who is, don’t get me wrong, a talented and highly acclaimed musician—can musically whiff a bunch of times, then perhaps I, despite my many authorial whiffs, can eventually produce something close to perfection—like I truly believe “Kenaston” is. Or, from a larger perspective, Chilly is proof that in every creative journey, you’re bound to create works of dubious quality (I mean, just look at Wings). But despite those creative whoopsies, you should always try again.
The same goes for recommending things I like. Nobody has unimpeachable taste—least of all me. So, I think this line of argument is another way of saying that while I love this song, I realize that this suggestion in and of itself might be a total miss, for you, the reader. A creative flop, if you will.
You might think “Kenaston” isn't terribly different from Chilly’s other tracks. Or from any other solo piano track you’ve heard in your life. It is, after all, simply a melancholic little piano tune. But every time I listen to it, it, as they say, hits different.
And I also recognize that the song won’t always feel so… significant. In ten years, it may still sound nice to me. But it likely won't conjure up the same palpable feelings of melancholic joy that it does now. Its power will pass in the same way that a song like Sugar Ray’s “Fly” will never give me the elation it did when I was eleven. But I really don’t care. At this moment in time, “Kenaston,” the song, represents more than a little piano tune for me.
To try to put it into words, here are a few of the moments in my life that the song evokes.
It’s being the first awake on a wintry Saturday, looking out of a frost-ringed window with a cup of freshly brewed coffee in my hand. It’s that passing moment before night when sun rays illuminate the high clouds, casting them in pink, while the low clouds hover, blue and black, fish beneath the waves. It’s sitting on a folded blanket in front of a hissing fire with my wife and daughters, collectively savoring a fragile moment of calm. It’s the drained elation of driving back home after a revelrous visit with friends. It’s the sad recognition that all good moments can’t last, and can never be recaptured, with the uplifting understanding that every new, good moment will be slightly different from the last.
If “Kenaston” is something like that for you too, amazing. But if not, I hope you have a song that is.
IN SHORT: Chilly play piano good.