Jesse Kivel

Life and Death at Party Rock (New Feelings)

Contact Patrick Tilley about Jesse Kivel

Jesse Kivel announces his new album, Life and Death at Party Rock, out November 10th on New Feelings, and presents the lead single/video, “I Sat on a Ridge.” Life and Death at Party Rock — elemental in sound and sentiment, tempo and timelessness — is an unadorned exploration of fatherhood, partnership, and life in rural Maine. Setting layered electronic sounds aside, Kivel embraces the familiar with thrumming guitar, light horns, keys, and harmonica. Through ten songs, we puzzle together the pieces of a dismantled self.


‘I Sat on a Ridge’ is an electronic, pastoral meditation that describes a specific ridge in rural midcoast Maine and the reflections sitting still on it conjures. Thoughts of roads not taken, greed, the deep ocean and infinity, are all woven through the tune. It eases into existence through delicate guitar, atmospheric production, and Kivel’s crystalline vocals. With a rare upright bass performance by Sam Wilkes, the song slips through a loose and heady rhythm and pulse. Echoes of Roedelius and the balearic jazz folk of Javier Bergia mix with contemporaries like Sandro Perri to make a sprawling, shimmering track. “Meet my son, and lead him in. Life and death, and back again,” sings Kivel. The accompanying video, directed by Irene Yadaeo, features a sparse campsite in Maine, with Kivel surrounded by members of the Colonial Maine Living History Association.


Party Rock, and its namesake jumping rock on the seaside, serves as a stolid witness to both a millennia of tides and the vanitas of our brief, fragile lives. With the rock as the scale to mark geologic time alongside our own, “It’s a comedy / it’s a tragedy,” Kivel reminds us. It is not surprising that with fatherhood comes a new consideration of time and mortality. In “Overgrown Ocean,” imagining meeting death by plane crash, Kivel reveals “And I found out, everything, everything I needed to know and everything I was and everything I is.” This moment, this place, this life: this is it. “Nepenthe,” named for the impossible potion to relieve one’s grief and sorrow, brings us a perspective that comes from exiting youth. The space once reserved for the scaffolding of a constructed Self is surrendered to the truth that exists beyond the Self — mothers, partners, children, and choices that shape us. To accept these things as inseparable is the true Nepenthe.


For each of these moments of knowing, Kivel also submits to the vast unknown throughout the album. Each piece includes forgiveness and surrender. Produced by Joey Genetti, Life and Death at Party Rock also features performances from Sam Wilkes, Joseph Shabason, Kacey Johansing, Dylan Day, and Matt Popieluch. Even as the album closes with the instrumental “Hunting with Shawn,” a dreamscape of spare piano, we sense this return to the vulnerable, child-like space of wonder. We’re back in the grass where we started. If we look closely enough, can we see the changes?