From the City of Shades: Kiefer’s “Sunny”

Will Schube takes a quick look at the L.A. beat musician's newest single.
By    February 27, 2019

Photo by Robb Klassen

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Will Schube has a Hawaiian shirt for every occasion.

Kiefer’s conceit is simple. He’s a deconstructionist but one who painstakingly builds from beats and keys — the former are indebted to rap and the latter to jazz. Over the course of two LPs, Kiefer Shackelford has proven himself to be a polymath. He’s equal parts Blue Whale and Low End Theory. Put him behind 88-keys or catch him hovering over an MPC and the results will be similar: he’ll make the thing sing.

Kiefer’s honed in on a very specific style, bulking up dusty samples with keyboard runs and piano solos that call to Lincoln Center—or, more accurately, Lincoln Boulevard. It’s the logical extreme of the ‘if it ain’t broke’ mentality, but Kiefer’s staggeringly original approach to both jazz and beat music allows for various mutations of the same formula to astound again and again.

On “Sunny,” the first track from Kiefer’s upcoming EP, Bridges, Kiefer plays the same tune but pitches it down a codeine-sip’s worth. He stretches the notes of his piano to extremes, patiently searching the pocket of his beat to find out just how much he can get away with. The answer, of course, is a lot. By blending synths and keys, percussive samples and more organic sounding drums, Kiefer sets up a play between the organic and the artificial.

He mirrors piano vamps with peppy synths and backs the head-nodder of a beat with syncopated woodblock hits. Three years into his solo career, Kiefer’s been able to ride on talent and innovation almost exclusively, but here, the structural chops impress as much as technical skills. Kiefer’s transcending the labels of pianist and beatmaker. He’s a songwriter, showing how much can be done with a brilliant idea.

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