Friday, January 16, 2009

Cocooned in a Soft Solitude: Andrew Keese and The Associates' Desire

Apparently, Australia isn't all about Nick Cave, The Go-Betweens and Modular anymore - I was sent a debut album entitled Desire by a band called Andrew Keese and The Associates that caught my attention. This four-piece from Melbourne has blended chamber pop with country/folk and added some thoughtful, often poignant, lyrics to splendid effect. As its apt title suggests, this self-released album is full of unfulfilled yearning, sometimes to the point of regret, and these emotions are brought to the foreground by the Morrisseyesque vocals from frontman Keese. At times, Keese's vocals shift from warm tones to raspy desperation and they often verge on maudlin grandeur. In turn, the poetic lyrics reflect a position that can be fragile, bitter, resigned and sublimely romantic all at once.

Opening track, Mercy, is a short instrumental featuring only the piano and brave pauses, and it sets up the understated album quite nicely. The album then takes a slightly unexpected turn as Little Possessions fills out the sound with hovering Hammond organ and broad strokes of piano, culminating in a folk-tinged lilt complete with a twangy guitar solo. The next track, Transmission, moves a little differently over a tumbling undercurrent of melodic guitars and bubbling vocals while one of my favourite tracks, Blessed Are the Meek, shelters under an arcadian canopy of violins and features the brilliant line "they think it's a clarion call, but it's only semaphore." The lyrics get even more careworn and wistful with The Shadows, a track that rolls along to driving guitars and Keese's soaring vocals. Then comes another favourite of mine: The Burden of Proof. This melancholy ballad documents a soul-chafing, lonely night in which the narrator laments "there's nothing left but the words in my mouth" and expresses regret over a relationship somehow misspent, where proving oneself becomes the biggest burden. This is followed by Ameline, a wry ballad that reminds me a bit of Elvis Costello, and which features another fantastic line in which the narrator compares his ex-lover's words to both vintage wine and alkaline.

The following two tracks, called Singapore and Sertraline Hydrochloride respectively, work like companion pieces and together clock in at twelve minutes, featuring a languid snare to bind them in romantic misfortune. They both burn as slowly and sorrowfully as the embers of the narrator's cigarette in the former track, and the latter track, named for an anti-depressant, ends up mimicking an increasingly numb struggle beneath heavy limbs and an even heavier heart. The first real spark of vitriol appears in the snide lyrics and sneery vocals of the track Someday in which the narrator derides an ex-lover and promises a karmic comeuppance; however, even with this vengeful tone, the song manages to remain beautifully self-wounding. The record ends with title track, Desire, which picks the mood and tempo back up again with a jauntiness that belies the realistic, albeit cynical, outlook on the limitations of love affairs. After the song builds and builds against the quivering organ, an ever-mounting whirlwind of emotion, it concludes the album back where it started with a solo piano.

The entire album is available for streaming and free download via the band's Web site, but it is definitely worth purchasing, especially since it includes four bonus tracks not available on the free version. Andrew Keese and The Associates take the gentle cadences of classical elements and marry them to the mournful essence of country/folk to achieve a record of exquisite longing cocooned in a soft solitude, filtering memory like a twilit blindfold.

Blessed Are the Meek - Andrew Keese and The Associates

The Burden of Proof - Andrew Keese and The Associates