Short 'N Sweet

Pat Keen’s new collection packs a ton of punch in about 20 minutes

Eric Christenson, photos by Jesse Johnson

WHEN YOU’VE SEEN PAT KEEN, YOU’VE SEEN A MALL. Eau Claire experimental pop musician Pat Keen’s debut LP Albatross, will release on June 2.
WHEN YOU’VE SEEN PAT KEEN, YOU’VE SEEN A MALL. Eau Claire experimental pop musician Pat Keen’s debut LP Albatross, will release on June 2.

Pat Keen was looking to shoot some press photos to accompany his brand new debut LP, Albatross. The cover of his 2015 record Leaving showed him emerging from a hot tub with an uncomfortable grimace on his face. He wanted to keep the “wet” theme consistent, so he and photographer Jesse Johnson started brainstorming. Johnson proposed: “What if you were wet in a place where you’re not supposed to be wet?” So the duo chose none other than the Oakwood Mall food court (above).

“When we were recording drums, I was like, ‘The vocals aren’t good enough are they?’ So I called Jon Sunde, and he taught me how to sing. We hung out with a bottle of Jameson and he taught me some stuff and did a couple of different sessions. And he even made a little cameo on the last track of the album.” – Pat Keen, on working with J.E. Sunde

“I went to the bathroom and just got drenched,” Keen said with a laugh. “We were bracing ourselves for security to be like, ‘Get out of here’ but no one was! We did it and no one cared. Everyone looked at me while we were taking the photo, but they just kept walking. They were like ‘Oh, OK.’”

Thus the soon-to-be iconic photo was captured. It’s a simple enough idea, executed with complexity in a short amount of time. Funnily enough, that’s kinda how most of Pat Keen’s songs come together. He’s an incredibly prolific songwriter, his songs are full of rich layers of abstract instrumentation, and most of them are under two minutes long.

Albatross, which releases June 2 via Philadelphia-based record label Ramp Local, has 11 tracks, and the whole record clocks in around 20 minutes. Keen deftly knows how to pack an incredible amount of punch into a short song. You won’t find any rollicking choruses or infectious hooks here, but each song whips around and evolves right before your eyes like a late-spring thunderstorm, then subsides and moves on to the next.

Keen’s already got some heavy-hitting music blogs to cosign the new record. He premiered standout cut “Chappy Coat” on Stereogum, who said this: “Soon enough, Keen’s resembling none other than Thundercat as he rides a woozy, soulful wave of rippling guitar lines.” Impose magazine debuted “Indigo,” and said “It’s simultaneously catchy, alluring, and out there, Keen’s composition jumping from steady danceables to pensive decelerations, and his seemingly multi-bodied voice weightlessly carrying you with it.”

Keen tucked himself away at his family’s lake house in Boulder Junction in the Wisconsin northwoods to record the guitars and bass on Albatross during a particularly difficult time. The record is an exercise in nurturing his own well-being, he said. He was going through a rough patch with his parents, not getting along very well, and the record helped him put certain things in perspective and move past them. After his five-day trip up north, Keen returned to record drums and vocals with Leo Strei in Minneapolis, where he lives now. And things have gotten much better. “I dedicated the album to my mom, and we’re the best of friends now,” he said.

On Albatross, it’s not hard to pinpoint similarities between Keen’s style and that of another prolific Eau Claire-connected songwriter, J.E. Sunde. Both have a knack for balancing swift vocals over acoustic flourishes and spatial, jazzy chords – and both have a sharp urgency to their songs. Keen grew up watching The Daredevil Christopher Wright at local shows, and he played some upright bass on Sunde’s latest record, so it kinda seemed like a full circle being completed when Keen reached out to get some Sunde-specific vocal training.

“When we were recording drums, I was like, ‘The vocals aren’t good enough, are they?’ So I called Jon Sunde, and he taught me how to sing,” Keen said. “We hung out with a bottle of Jameson and he taught me some stuff and did a couple of different sessions. And he even made a little cameo on the last track of the album.”

Keen played every instrument on Albatross, and now that it’s is finished, he put together a band with Addie Strei, Leo Strei, and Cami Pereyra (all from Eau Claire) to embark on a two-week summer tour. Along the way, they’ll hit the Northside Festival in Brooklyn, have big shows in Chicago, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and, of course, Eau Claire on the night before the Eaux Claires festival. “Eau Claire is gonna be a f---ing party,” Keen said.

The record ends before you even know it, but between when you hit play and the record stops, it flies all over the map. It’s a true gem from a truly gifted songwriter with a bright future, that really leaves you wanting more. When I interviewed Keen in 2015, he said he already had another record completed – that was Albatross. This time around, it’s the same. There’s a whole slew of brand new Keen classics on the way, and it’s thrilling to wait for what comes next.

Albatross releases on June 2 via Ramp Local and you can catch the Pat Keen Full Band Sound at The Mousetrap on June 15 at 10pm along with sloslylove and Idle Empress.

Press and hold the up/down arrows to scroll.