Bienen Senior 'Kechi (Ikechi Ihemeson) Achieves Sophisticated Simplicity on Debut EP "Late Night Love Confessions"

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By Henrique DaMour

Let’s take it back. You’re 14 and are in the throes of your first love, in a sleeping bag on the floor of your best friend’s bedroom at 4 a.m. After a soul-freeing confession to them that you “like-like” you-know-who from yall’s English class at around midnight immediately followed by a swift verbal right hook of, “BUT YOU CAN’T TELL ANYONE,” the conversation between you and your most trusted confidant has been flowing like a faucet. You might never get to sleep—you’re in love!

Now you’re 26. Tired, you pull into your parking spot after a double shift and you can’t help but appreciate how amidst all the moves, the changes in your nascent careers, vacations spent together, extended families endured, and some precariously low lows, somehow, *you chuckle and shake your head* somehow you’re still together. I’m blessed, you think. After a minute of staring blankly at that smudge on the windshield, you follow a sudden impulse back onto the dark streets, frantically call your mom, and bang on their front door, and on one knee officially confess to your bleary-eyed love that you want to spend the rest of your life with them.

At 67, sure your body might be quitting on you, but you come home every day to the only person who gets as hype as you about the 15%-off senior discount at Denny’s. The kids are long gone and you’re finally growing old together. You Alexa off the lights, slip into bed and sleepily tell them all about your day—fears, triumphs, meaningless stories, inside jokes, insecurities, what have you.

No matter the gravity of a love confession, there’s something inexorable about the most vulnerable of our romantic moments manifesting in the darkness.

On his five-song EP, Late Night Love Confessions, Chicago-bred R&B/soul artist ‘Kechi (Ikechi Ihemeson, NU-Bienen ‘19) takes you on a tour through the intimately-constructed museum that houses his versions of these confessions—a museum whose foundations are held up by two pillars: his versatile, gooey baritone, and a piano sound that’s full and complex, but not overwhelming or distracting.

“The stripped-down thing was definitely on purpose just because I feel like it was the most authentic way for me to really convey my emotions and convey my feelings,” says ‘Kechi. “There aren't all these other distractions with the production of this and that.”

Transparency is the name of the game for the 22-year-old, who aims to bring his experiences and the works of art they inspire to you on this project. Or to whoever, really. No matter the nature of the confession or who or what it’s directed at, for ‘Kechi, it’s the act of communicating about love that is the reason behind the EP. He reflects in particular on a series of conversations he had been having with a friend, almost all centered on love and the experiences they were both going through in relation to it.

“I feel like the burden of love itself would be on me, and having all these thoughts and having all these irrational fears and creating storylines that my imagination just happened to come across—it was all very burdening,” says ‘Kechi. “So I think really what came across from the project was me just releasing those. I do feel very much that a burden has been released ever since I recorded songs and put them out there.”

The centerpiece of LNLC is a specific kind of love, an unfortunately all-too-familiar, but ultimately formative, kind of love—the kind that gives your stomach butterflies and sends your head into a soup of hormones and questions: Why are we scared of beauty? Why are we scared of the feelings that seeing beauty makes us feel? Why do those feelings make us put another on a pedestal and then do (or fail to do) dumb things as a result? Professor ‘Kechi’s office hours to address such questions, or at least talk them over with you, come in the form of the first two tracks of LNLC: “Butterflies” and its subsequent reprise. He does this by projecting personal experience through the lens of metaphor, and boiling it all down to one refrain: “Why do I run away from the butterflies?”

“[It’s] the last lingering thought: ‘Why do I run away from the butterflies?’” ‘Kechi says of the reprise. “I sort of linger on that thought, and then it almost resolves itself, especially as I repeat the musical idea. I'm playing this over and over again, and then I end it. I think it's important for a song to have some sort of resolution, especially if you're telling a story or a feeling. So I guess that's why I decided to extend ‘Butterflies’ really to the point to where I was somewhat content with where I was.”

The only thing more cruel than a fear of failure that keeps your words chained to the roof of your mouth is the regret that takes its place after you don’t shoot your shot. Both are exhausting, but to a degree, courage, like most things, can be bettered by practice. In love or outside of it. And for ‘Kechi, that’s the raison d'être of his music: growth in self-expression.

“I'm a shyer person. I'm more reserved,” says ‘Kechi. “I can be outgoing, but it does take a lot of energy for me to push myself out there even if what I do have to offer is something that people will be excited to hear. So it's always just about making that push, telling myself that it's going to be worth it. There's definitely been growth in me being able to express myself more freely and more openly in that format.”

One listen to the handcrafted, intentional lyricism shows you that it comes from a flawed, flesh-and-blood man, not an idea or a character. Many artists strive tirelessly to achieve what ‘Kechi has on LNLC: an authentic, sophisticated simplicity.

Late Night Love Confessions isn’t just for the souls that long; it’s also for those that have found their resting place. The EP’s finale is well-placed, closing the project where you would hope any journey would end: home. “Just” is about the person you call home, decorated liberally with present-tense verbs that anchor down lyrics reminiscent of Daniel Caesar’s brand of comfort-food soul: “We were made to last/I don’t need the world the world/Long as I can be still with you.” “Just” is a dreamy exercise in duality. Lyrically, ‘Kechi contrasts the hugeness and busyness of the world with a simple stillness that in its own right can be blissfully consuming. And musically, if the key change at 3:17 doesn’t make you feel some kind of way, listen to it until it does.

“Love’s Dialect (Fingerpaintings),” takes the cake as the standout track. As the title implies, it’s about love’s different forms, its complexity, and the different things it can produce. ‘Kechi employs spoken word as the perfect vehicle for a refined stream of consciousness that fully recognizes the impossibility of distilling love into one minute and 31 seconds. ‘Kechi is in perfect, content surrender to that reality.

Another untitled project is on the not-too-distant horizon for ‘Kechi. It will step back from and add to the barebones intimacy of vocals and keys in a dark room to take a broader look at another multi-faceted concept and what it means to him: light. According to him, a track on LNLC (he remained tight-lipped about which one) will be making a reappearance with, in his words, “a totally different feel to it, I can promise you that.”
“When people ask me what type of music I do, it's all over the place,” says ‘Kechi. “Even in this project where everything's just the vocals and just the grand piano, stylistically, the decisions I make in my piano playing is something I've been working on. I always just wanna play around with different things.” He pauses. “The essence of 'Kechi, I guess, is what I do.”

MusicNoah Franklin