Pop Fiction

Chris Koza, spending a quiet afternoon at the mannequin emporium
Emily Utne

As with any musician, Chris Koza's goal is to get his music into the heads of as many people as possible. By not being afraid to take his band out on tour and by consistently producing new material, Koza is doing business the old-fashioned way: He's working for it. Koza has already completed a West Coast tour with his new album, A Dark, Delirious Morning, in hand, and is planning another.

But the debt, despair, and dedication of a musician is wasted time without talent; fortunately, Koza's got that in spades. A singer-songwriter at heart, Koza displays a knack for complicating things just enough to keep them interesting, but not so much that it obscures his own unique voice. At the heart of each song is a simple melody, but like a latter-day Elliot Smith, Koza layers on instruments and sounds, creating mood and intensity. From the title track's Wilco-like introduction to the Tom Waits style of telling stories within the songs, Koza takes classic pop songs and twists them just enough that they sound familiar, yet fresh.

Koza introduced himself with 2004's Exit Pesce, which was recorded in his apartment. It's easy to listen now and hear the direction that Koza would go, but at face value the album's a bare-bones product full of catchy tunes and a shaky voice. Then came 2006's Patterns, which found more complicated arrangements and grander aspirations. In talking about where he's come from, Koza gives indications that this second album left him feeling unfulfilled. Offhandedly, he says things like, "Some people liked it, some people didn't like it as much," or , "by all accounts, things went all right." Though he never says it outright, there is a sense that whatever disappointments came his way after Patterns only motivated him to try harder.

Koza was consciously trying to focus on the details. He made a decision to quit his day job and focus on music exclusively. "I don't want to get to the point where I say, 'Oh, I could've done that differently,'" he says. "I just want to do it—and do it now—and if it doesn't work, then I'll roll with it." Which is how he found himself living in Brooklyn last summer, demoing songs for the new album on his laptop. He would ride the subway around New York, playing the songs over and over in his head, trying to get every single nuance right. He tries to explain the restlessness that comes with trying to decide how to spend the rest of one's life; or, as he puts it, "spending so much time with my head elsewhere." It was with this backdrop and steadfastness that Koza made his most confident album to date, something for which he was striving: "It's appealing for me as a songwriter to be able to sing something and believe in it the whole time," he says.

Koza is humble. Trying to get him to brag about anything proves fruitless. He is excited and nervous about headlining the Mainroom for the first time, but he jokes about having to bring in a truck full of mannequins to fill out the crowd. Talking about the great response he's gotten locally, he jokes about touring and wanting to leave the comfortable shows in town to play crappy ones in other cities.

If a great album can transport you to another place, then Koza's new album is the feeling of riding in the passenger seat. The title track sets the scene for The Dark, Delirious Morning, as he worries about the coming day: "In the quiet of the morning/Rolling towards the light/Listen to the pavement go on about the night." He speaks of the arcade called "The Avalon," and a day at a racetrack in "Belmont Stakes." Each story is filled with imagery so strong you can feel the accordion game tickets in your pocket or smell the bourbon and dirt at the track.

As the ride continues, Koza gets more comfortable; he opens up a bit and talks about his love and his fears. He wonders what the future really holds for him in "With or Without." He talks about the queasy stomach and anxious excitement that comes with new love in "Adjust." And he shares memories and thoughts of life in this city, this fictional city in Koza's mind. The end of the drive finds him in "Over the Clouds, Under the Weather," at a diner in the middle of the night, out of words, observing the "tweakers and sleepers." Koza's audio tour of this world includes the dark and the light, the good and the bad, and the beauty you can find in all those spaces between, given a long enough lens.

CHRIS KOZA performs a CD-release show with This World Fair, These Modern Socks and The Parlour Suite on SATURDAY, JUNE 7, at FIRST AVENUE; 612.332.1775

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