David Kilgour - Bobbie's A Girl ALBUM REVIEW (Merge/Flying Out)
David Kilgour And The Heavy Eights – Bobbie’s A Girl (Merge/Flying Out) Album Review
On his first album since 2014 David Kilgour’s Bobbie’s A Girl floats in haunted suspension. GARY STEEL soaks up the grief.
Auditioned on compact disc and TIDAL HIFI
Said to have been inspired (if that’s the right word for a sombre response) by the death of his mother along with that of his former creative foil, Peter Gutteridge, David Kilgour’s Bobbie’s A Girl is certainly a vastly different record to any that the alt guitar hero has coaxed into life previously.
Despite a surprisingly oddball discography encompassing numerous reunions with The Clean, compilations of short-lived outfits The Great Unwashed and Stephen and both solo and collaborative albums with the Heavy Eights, there’s a certain consistency to Kilgour’s work, an admirable cleaving to his aesthetic and personal characteristics.
No matter what he’s doing at the time, there’s a skewed pop heart to Kilgour’s compositions that entirely eschews pretension and is inherently humble, while remaining ineffably cool. Add to that an element of Celtic folk and a generous flare of psychedelia inevitably influenced by the Velvet Underground and its 1960s contemporaries, and you’ve virtually got the blueprint for the fabled Dunedin scene sound that – real or imagined – has become enshrined in legend.
I’ve been unkind at times to that scene and The Clean and the early records of its label Flying Nun in particular, because there are aspects of that sound and those records I really don’t like: the appalling quality of the recording and the proudly sloppy performative standard. I could never get with the crowd that sought to propel poor performances into an art form, and the idea that a poor standard of musicianship (or recording) was somehow cool still irritates the hell out of me.
David Kilgour is one of the architects of that aesthetic, but for all of my qualms, I’m a sometime fan of his work as a reliably creative musician, and David Kilgour’s Bobbie’s A Girl is one of his most enticing projects to date. (Although when I write ‘his’, it should be recognised that Heavy Eights Thomas Bell, Tony de Raad and Taane Tokona receive equal writing credits).
The songs on David Kilgour’s Bobbie’s A Girl don’t so much drift or amble along as remain in haunted suspension. When there’s a vocal it’s sometimes closer to a whisper and the ‘song’ is more of a suggestion of a song or a shadow projection that’s more about mood than narrative or verse/chorus/verse. And often, these tracks are completely shorn of voice.
Some may lament the absence of those overt pop moments or the raucousness associated with his most famous group, but this is wilfully introspective stuff and it works like crazy.
‘Entrance’ is a great way to announce the difference: a lovely, becalmed instrumental with a semi-acoustic sound and crisp drums, it leads into ‘Smoke You Right Out Of Here’ with its typical laconic singing and the shimmering light psychedelia that pervades much of the disc. “I’m gonna let you go now, let you fly” could be the big kiss-off to an ex, but equally, a sad goodbye to someone who’s left this plane.
At times, as on ‘Crawler’, it can sound a bit like incidental film music, which isn’t helped by the piece’s brevity, but that’s irrelevant when you’ve got the music on in the background late at night with the woodburner spitting and smoking away and the whole thing fits together in atmospheric cohesion.
Another thing I really like about David Kilgour’s Bobbie’s A Girl is that the instrumental palette isn’t just strummed or droning guitar (although there is a bit of that) but includes vibes, piano and hand chimes. And when Kilgour does employ drones (or dirges) there’s often some deft fingerpicking going on simultaneously, so in that sense it’s light years from early Clean jangle.
‘If You Were Here And I Was There’ has it all, really: the strum, the drone, the psychedelic reverb/shimmer, and even some wiggly guitar. “That black cat ain’t comin’ back,” he intones. It’s classic Kilgour: seemingly slight but not inconsequential, unambitious but real.
Looks Like I’m Running Out
‘Looks Like I’m Running Out’ is once again, at 2:57, almost too short, but it captures a beautifully narcotized flavour, like walking into a room at a party where the hash smell is overwhelming and you could swear that zombies are shooting up in dark corners. The final song, ‘Ngapara’, is apparently Kilgour’s favourite: a tune with a doomy chord and a close-miked performance that plays out a little like one of Tommy Guerrero’s appealingly slack-jawed, hollow-bodied jams. And that’s it.
There’s a feeling that this is exactly what Kilgour and his collaborators wanted to do, and make, and for once, the PR blurb actually says something bang on. It’s talking up ‘Ngapara’ but the sentiment is true of the album as a whole: “The song (the album) feels both a part of Kilgour’s previous work, and just outside of it.”
* David Kilgour And The Heavy Eights perform later this month. Thursday 24 Oct (Sherwood, Queenstown), Friday 25 Oct (The Cook, Dunedin), Saturday 26 Oct (Blue Smoke, Christchurch), Thursday 31 Oct (San Fran, Wellington), and Saturday 2 and Sunday 3 (Whammy Bar, Auckland).