Emmet Kelly puts on a half-cocked smile for his latest, Untouchable. The album’s a sunnier side of The Cairo Gang, but not without a heart melted by melancholy. While the melancholy isn’t unusual in his work, the shiny veneer certainly is. The closest he’s come to some of the breezy moments heard here was back in the days of Tiny Rebel‘s ’60s pop inflections. Though on that one he found the dark heart of the 12-string jangle, balancing any sweet moments with the deep darkness inherit in a cover of Boys Next Door’s “Shivers.” On the contrary here, he’s embracing a ’90s borne indie sound that pays it’s debt to James, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and The Lemonheads. In fact the Matthew Sweet sip runs twofold, because while Kelly certainly finds himself indebted to Sweet’s songwriting, he’s taking a bite out of the great Robert Quine’s guitar flash. The latter is almost certainly one of the key ingredients in Sweet’s most enduring catalog.
What’s also glaringly apparent about Untouchable is that it’s embraced album oriented rock full tilt, and partially that’s why I’ve been hard pressed to combat this record on a singles basis. Untouchable is not just a collection of tracks, it’s a balance of emotions with the kind of ebb and flow that’s meant to be digested as a whole, not in mere bites. If 2017 has proven anything, it’s that while the majority of listeners have embraced compartmental music and the infinite playlist, a large portion of smaller label releases have striven to create albums that can’t be broken down.
Kelly is an indispensable part of the indie rock pantheon, adding his guitar to more albums than you probably know in your collection (Ty Segall, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Joan of Arc, Magic Trick, The Double) but he shines as a frontman. The Cairo Gang have long been that band bubbling in the background, crafting solidly built albums that trade in ennui like spiritual currency. It’s hardly surprising to get another winner from Kelly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less deserving of praise. Though the covers change, the fractured heart that beats beneath Kelly’s songs remains ever the same.
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