Readers of this blog will already know of my fondness for the musical endeavours of Steve Kilbey. You can go read my posts about The Church and Isidore to find out more. You can’t love everything a prolific guy does, or at least you can’t love everything he does to the fullest extent, because everyone has their own tastes and personality. Kilbey, however, has produced a pretty darn solid body of work that is consistently thought-provoking, enlightening and tuneful. And his style has continued to develop as well. As I noted in a previous piece, his sonorous baritone has become more measured, and his lyrics often simpler, more direct and personal. Often this lyrical style is much more effective than some of the flights of fancy he indulged in as a younger man.
Martin Kennedy is the man behind instrumental band All India Radio, with whom I have only recently become familiar, but I have been very impressed with what I’ve heard. All India Radio produced some very pleasing, sensitive soundscapes which I intend to investigate further. He has a gift for a delicate balance of instrumentation and melody, which becomes very clear on this album.
Kilbey and Kennedy have made three albums in their collaboration, Unseen Music Unheard Words, White Magic, and now this, You Are Everything. The first album has been in my collection for a while and I’ve given it regular play. The second I’ve only heard recently and it’s another solid collection of moody art-pop.
All this is an overlong preamble to a discussion of You Are Everything, the brand spanking new album. I was offered the chance to absorb it in advance and I’m very happy to have had that opportunity. Let me say without qualification that this is one of the finest recordings of Kilbey’s long and very fruitful career, and that’s saying a lot. The previous two Kilbey/Kennedy albums are very good and worth your attention, but a lightning bolt from Olympus must have struck these two fellas as they wrote and recorded these songs. Interestingly, many of the pieces appear to have been commissioned, but despite that, the sound and vibe are perfectly consistent in this unified piece of work.
So what is it that makes this album so special compared to others? Well, not only have the two found a new and beautiful spin on their sound, and not only are the pieces themselves wonderfully composed little jewels, but Kilbey himself has surpassed all his previous standards as a vocalist and even at times as a lyricist.
While the first two albums featured a mix of acoustic sounds and electronic pop, You Are Everything is a mixture of delicate psychedelia with the sounds of chamber strings and elegant harmonies. There’s a deep spirituality to the sounds that can only come from people putting their very souls into the music. Overblown sentiment? Maybe, but really, I do feel that way.
Kilbey himself has never sung so well and so subtly as he does on this album, as though the directness of his lyrics is drawing out more of his personality, and it feels like he is directing his words to each listener personally. His control of the shades of emotion in his singing is masterful.
Lyrically, each song doesn’t feature a lot of words, but he makes each word count. Always prone to spiritual pondering, on this recording there is a more personal bent even to those, as though he’s musing aloud about the meaning of our lives.
Opener “I Wouldn’t Know” is a mid-tempo psych-pop number in which Kilbey addresses the deities about his doubts, sardonic but searching. Sweeping backing vocals and string sounds glide over glistening acoustics.
That’s a good tune, but these chaps haven’t hit their stride yet. They get right to that on “Everyone”, a song that starts as a moody existentialist lament in a duet with an equally expressive female singer (I’ll add her name if I find out what it is). “I know you’re everywhere, so why do I feel so alone?” he protests, but just as we reach the height of melancholy, Kilbey pulls us back from the brink of despair with an uplifting coda, the repeated words “Hold on, you’re everyone” allowing us to remember we are but drops in a shining sea, linked with everything even in our loneliness. It’s just beautiful.
“Lorelei” is a thumpier, droning number that sounds like what Coldplay could achieve if they had any depth. Kilbey’s vocals are again lovely on this song, revealing that new subtlety I was talking about.
“Knowing You Are in This World” is a stunning acid-folk-style song not dissimilar to that heard on No-Man’s Together We’re Stranger (read my rave here) — shiny acoustic guitar and delicate electronics accompany another firm demand from Kilbey that we engage the moment and drop our sorrow. “I just want to give what’s mine to you, so it all comes through.”
“I Find” is lyrically a bit slighter (it’s hard to keep those standards up!) but features some great skilful vocal stylings we haven’t heard from Kilbey in the past. There are some lovely harmony vocals as well.
I can’t describe all the songs without writing a book here, so I’ll move on a bit. “All the World” is another psych-folk style acoustic number, dark and melancholy. But the finest track on the album is buried towards the end.
“Brother Moon Sister Sun” I have played numerous times and I still can’t get enough. This may be Kilbey’s finest moment as a lyricist, at least in his “solo” career. The song is based around chiming acoustics, plinking piano and a stately beat as Kilbey intones his wisdom like a Zoroastrian high priest. “Brother moon sister sun, darkness and light come from one. No one can say which is stronger, they both must exist with each other.” Wise, sure, but then he raises the emotional barometer into the tear-jerkingly profound with lines like “May goodness and mercy follow your whole life through” and the devastatingly simple “Love your life, don’t be afraid.” You make it sound easy, Steve! The message of love in this song moves me greatly.
After an uptempo number, the lads give us the dramatic closer (de rigeur, as you know), “Finale”, a sparse piece of flanged guitar and jazzy drums featuring some more moody, dramatic vocals.
You Are Everything represents a new milestone in both of these musicians’ careers and is the culmination of a very successful partnership — I hope it won’t be their last. They seem to bring out the best in each other, and I am grateful for the pleasure and consolation this album has given me and will continue to.