Image by Jo-Ann Woods
How does one pin a label on a singer whose work is so obscure and nuanced in its gentility and brilliance? Punk? Folk? A complex, transcendent form of neo-pop? James Kruman has most likely heard all of these before in some form or other.
Known already as Teesside’s very own troubadour, local balladeer Kruman is about to release his debut album, Twitch. “I wanted the Twitch album to flow with unpredictable directions from trippy 60’s psych rock experiments to country blues-tinged parodies and new wave electronica. I set out to create a collection of tracks appealing to fans of off-kilter, avant-garde and alternative acts.”
Celebrated for his dry, dark acoustic pop, his sound veers towards the alternative and abstract; he admits that his music contains a certain disconcerting darkness. “I have always been drawn to the more depressive, macabre and darker elements of human conscience, and it is fair to say that some of my music explicitly expresses this. I really don’t know why this is, and I know that I often don’t have control over what I write. I prefer it this way.”
Kruman’s music even borders on the existential, driven forward by the absurdist force of lyrics which describe a singer, wrapped by his music, staring bleakly into a void. “The characters in the songs often contemplate life and death. I think this is another part of the human condition.” Representative of the abstract lyrics, dazzling imagery and gentle bleakness that seems to characterize Kruman’s work, the starkly monikered Suicide Song should be taken in an abstract way, Kruman warns. “The Suicide Song shouldn’t be confused with being about the actual act of suicide, but more of a metaphor for taking a big leap into the unknown.”
I have always been drawn to the more depressive, macabre and darker elements of human conscience
Kruman’s songs contain a certain emptiness, evocative of a man very aware of his essence, but unable to fulfill it. “I have been fearful for as long as I can remember about turning into the person described in the Trainspotting film monologue… ‘Choose life, choose a job…choose sitting on that couch watching mind numbing, spirit crushing game shows’. Whether it be a dead-end job working for some wealthy sociopath, an oppressive relationship or depressive advertising, it can be so easy for a person to just ‘make do’ or crawl through life without realising they are even living! Without creating my music and leading a creative life, I might just as well just stuff my face with fast food and wait until I am too old to do anything about it! At this point in my life, being creative is what gives my life purpose, it’s not exclusive to this, but I struggle to argue that something is more important.”
Aside from the darkness, there is a certain melancholy and an aching beauty to Kruman’s songs, giving works such as Country Sigh a nihilistic hopefulness, which when matched with a sincere and husky voice, makes for a profound listening experience. “I don’t set out to suck a certain emotional response from anyone. I think the majority of my songs are ambiguous in meaning and abstract in narrative, so I much prefer the idea that no two people would feel the same.”