Saturday, October 1, 2005

Records In Review: David Kilgour--A Feather In The Engine

This is the fifth (2001) solo record released by Kilgour, ex(?)-guitarist of New Zealand's The Clean. I took a look at the Cleanthology set here.

There's something to be said for albums that don't beat you about the head with subcultural musical referents and cleverness, and that something is: "good." A Feather In The Engine is a little gem that, like a Truffaut film, drifts weightlessly by while leaving a surprising impression. In terms of style, it isn't a gazillion miles away from mid-'90s Clean; there's the same spaciousness, balance between vocals and instrumentals, occasional trippiness and movement toward a more acoustic and fully-orchestrated sound, but it leans more toward chamber-pop. There's also the same tendency toward the "vignette" writing style, which might not please everyone, but which I think works particularly well in this context.

There's remarkable variety here, considering that most of the songs are principally 2-3 chorders. You've got orchestral '60s-style pop ("Today Is Gonna Be Mine"), folk ("Perfect Watch"), trippy psych-pop ("I Caught You") and a couple of tunes that evoke a spacious mid-period U2 ("Sept. 98" and "All The Rest"), albeit with a living room rather than a stadium aesthetic. The loose instrumental "Instra 2" sounds like an Anthony Phillips improvisation, with its lovely ripe English chords. I'm a sucker for that stuff. Simple but striking details of instrumentation and arrangement abound (like the guitar fill in "I Lost My Train")--always there, never overkill, just little bits bubbling to the surface. Like the music, Kilgour's voice is characterful, unaffected and a pleasure to listen to, at both its lower and upper limits.

The only complaint I can make, and it's minor, is that the album gets a little too diffuse in the last couple of tracks. A Feather In The Engine doesn't have a lot of momentum, and it doesn't need it. Listen and I'm sure you'll agree with me, and if not, well, only one of us can be right, if you catch my drift. A must-buy, for any-time listening.