Set, Setting, Tuneage: Joe Kaplow: Sending Money and Stems

Set, Setting, Tuneage seeks to share the experience of listening to music in our lives rather than the thinking of music in our minds.

(T + 0:00)Joe Kaplow: Sending Money and StemsAudial39:00

The day had been mostly dry, a small sprinkle here and there. Clouds milled around but never blocked the sun for that long. Flowers abound, shit felt fresh. 

I had found myself by a flourishing creek at the Base of Belcher Hill. White Ranch Park has been my go-to for quick zips into an environment that’s not the inside of my apartment or the work yard of my job. I thought that I had wanted to walk about the trails while getting my first dosage of California-based songwriter Joe Kaplow’s latest album Sending Money and Stems. But I had been walking around in mud all day at work, it was time to relax. 

Joe Kaplow is someone I’ve seen but I’ve never really heard. DIY music festivals like Do It Ourselves Fest in Santa Cruz and Lost Sierra Hoedown in Johnsville, CA have been the perfect low-key atmospheres — while surrounded by hardcore friends and lovers of Kaplow — to see the songwriter play a stray tune here or there at a campfire. He’s always looked like he’s had a blast but I’ve been shuttling patrons or manning traffic checkpoints at these gatherings to ever see him on stage. For that reason, I was excited about this new record, there was some good juju coming with this tuneage. 

Lounged on a rock I traced the contours of the river as it bends towards my perch until my eyes ended staring at the bowl in my hands. I flicked my lighter on, inhaled, and exhaled the sweet guitar pickings of “5am” (T + 0:00). The melody is easy and gentle though rippling with the memories of whatever cherished moments inspired this song. Kaplow sings in a smirking falsetto, breezy and bendy like the reeds sticking out of the shallow bank of the creek.

The comfortable serenity of the fresh scene before me and fresh music within me was needed. Much like the hills and trees and bushes had just gotten a rinse from mother nature, my psyche was feeling the coolness of life wash over it. The harmonies in the chorus of “February Prorated Rent” flow around me like the cold water that rushes around my hand that is dipped in the creek. I dry my hand and take another hit. 

“Little Sleep” wakes up my ears (T + 8:12). I don’t know why exactly, but the soft blue hues of the guitar sounds like … life. The life made up of your friends laughing their hardest at a 3 a.m. house party, you crying your softest  when the losses pile up and the silence that surrounds a psychedelic sunset. It is both exuberant and melancholy at once, deft sonic and lyrical feats from Kaplow that kind of took my breath away. I know just after the first chorus that this song would be with me for the rest of my life. 

It’s a hell of a song and an artistic triumph. If this song makes it into the right people’s ears Kaplow might be able to chart his career in years of Before-“Little Sleep” and After-Little Sleep Sleep” (Example: Kaplow’s first album Time Spent In Between was released in the year 2 B.L.S). I hope he likes the song because he will be playing it a lot in the coming years. 

Little Sleep: Joe Kaplow

The song has implored me to explore my little area and get to know this hill country oasis. I skip across rocks and log and admire the greens and browns of dirt, grasses and branches that line either side. It’s just so nice to be by water, we are in a drought after all. To follow this ribbon of life curling through the grass is to find nourishment in the improvisation of exploration, even if it is only a short little sojourn.

“All the moments I hold so close to me/ only exist in my memory” sings Kaplow on the enriching “How Old Is My Soul” (T + 19:10) The line brings a smile of awe to my face as the song trickles down my spine. The simple, existential profundity of the line — and the song itself — is charming as hell, one you’d like to keep in your back pocket for a soft jolt of perspective when you need it. The folky innocence of the song had some transcendental properties because as the song opened up in bright tones of brushy drums, bubbling organ and humming harmonica so too did the sky, releasing both sun and rain upon me. What a special treat. 

I take it as a signal that I’ve reached the summit of my experience of music and nature. I turn around and start heading back towards the car during “Rain Drums.” The song speaks of dancing in the rain and I do the same. It is then that I look up and see a rainbow has formed along my journey home (T + 25:40). It’s a cosmic sign of the good luck inherent in Sending Money and Stems and the special ways his music is meeting the moment. I have amused reverence. 

As the parking lot comes into view the lilting guitar lines of “Some Things” begin to waft through my airwaves. Shit, one more showstopper before we go. It’s another song that almost immediately makes me think of everyone else in my life who will enjoy this song and its smiling blues in times of joy and in times of pain.“Some things are better high, some things are better low.”

What a fucking album. Do yourself a favor, go buy it for yourself and another five copies for your friends. I hadn’t listened to one song by Joe Kaplow before this record but now I know I won’t be living the rest of my life without his music right there with me, especially Sending Money and Stems. I can now clearly chronicle my life from here on out as Before Kaplow (B.K) and After Kaplow (A.K). I hope I live to at least 40 A.K. so I can spend as much time with this album as possible. 

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