Jesse Kivel

Infinite Jess (New Feelings)

Contact Patrick Tilley about Jesse Kivel

Jesse Kivel is my brother. We’re twins no less. Born minutes apart. Connected in infinity since our first breaths. And since I took that first gulp of air by his side in a New York City hospital 35 years ago, I’ve been trying to figure out who he is and who I am — understanding full well that the answer to that impossibly elusive question will always contain fragments of each of our souls. Sometimes I get the cleanest glimpse of his inner mind and pulse not from our conversations or visits, but from his art. “Infinite Jess” puts more of him — the real Jesse, as man, father, son, brother — into the open world than I’ve ever seen, or heard, before.


When I hear him sing “I was one” over and over and over again on “Desert, Moonlight” I’m transported right back to our high-ceilinged, maroon-carpeted apartment in Manhattan (the first place we ever lived). The paint is peeling off the walls in some spots, the kitchen is tiny and filled with the rich smell of takeout from the Palm Too steakhouse, and Jesse and I are sitting quietly by the velveteen couch in the corner. When I hear the melody and lyrics of “Champagne Supernova” refracted through the chorus of Jesse’s “Northside,” giving way to a plaintive electric guitar solo that rips heavily from Noel Gallagher’s break on Oasis’ “Underneath the Sky” (a b-side that all the deep Gallagher heads know and love) I’m suddenly in line with Jesse at age 16 outside of the Roseland Ballroom in New York, waiting to see the brothers Gallagher and the band that inspired us to pick up guitars and write songs in our LA bedroom at age 14. Some saw them as buffoons and provocateurs, we saw two brothers who had built a body of artistic work that was complex, beautiful, and at times, deeply misunderstood.


“Northside” pulses with a beat that echoes My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon,” minus the gauze, and then builds worlds of melody and verb, injected with so much damn love, depth and spirit, that you need to sing that chorus back as loud as you can, while nodding your head raver style, just to exercise the joy from your body. The Northside Jesse’s talking about, of course, is the neighborhood in Santa Monica locals refer to as “North of Montana.” It’s an enclave for rich screenwriters, directors, actors and business folks, where they can build mini Xanadus for their families and live out an impossible west coast fantasy that probably died in 1969, but carries on in the capitalistic glory of their Teslas, manicured lawns and renovated three story minimalist box homes.


If you take a short walk down the street from one of those Northside homes, you’ll find yourself at R&D Kitchen. A dimly lit restaurant run by The Hillstone restaurant group, sandblasted of charm, refined to the most perfect degree. Exact, generic, but, strangely, comforting. Jesse’s anthem to the restaurant on “Infinite Jess,” is a snaking, expansive ride through his own soul — where he calls the restaurant “his religion,” replacing the comfort of god and eternal meaning with the taste of a well-cooked steak, perfectly poured glass of wine, and a sparkling set of silverware. As a dad and husband, with two young boys of his own now, this place of supreme physical control is transfigured and filled with holiness and quiet in Jesse’s mind — a space where your every need is met, the food always tastes the same level of satisfying, and the mood is tempered and tailored for minimum dissonance. He knows it’s all an illusion, but that’s what he wants — just the attempt at serenity and completeness that R&D offers. It’s a sanctuary in the most literal sense.


The whole album reads to me like an autobiography. So evocative. So instantly transportive. The music and pitch perfect arrangements — moody, playful, atmospheric, and unpredictable — are the vehicle for all of this time travel and producer Joey Genetti, along with an immensely talented cast of some of the most dynamic technicians and stylists in LA’s contemporary music scene — Sam Wilkes, Jeff Brodsky, and Michael David — help infuse a rich, deeply felt sense of purpose and shape to every moment.


It’s fitting that “Infinite Jess” should end with “Vincent,” a languid reading of Don McLean’s classic tune, performed entirely alone on Wurlitzer by Joey, with a light synth drone and the rolling waves of the Maine seashore rippling behind. The arrangement comes completely from Jesse’s memory of the song from the first time he heard it in his first-grade classroom in Santa Monica. Now years have gone by. The structure and melodies are half-remembered, degraded and refracted by time. Maine, the place where he and his wife Zinzi and kids have decamped to for the foreseeable future, churns against that starry starry memory of a land without stars where we grew up and became whatever we’ve been, will always be, and can never run away from. Now Jesse has a new home in Maine. “Four points, lighthouses, and infinity.” Embracing the eternal. Conjuring the past. Fleeing nothing. Letting go. That’s how I’ll find him now.