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Gift of Isis


Steve Kilbey and Jeffrey Cain - Isidore
(2004 Brash Music)
Reviewed: Sept. 18, 2004

Review by Brad Walseth

Consider if you will the possibility that Archimedes' books weren't burnt up by the Ostrogoths and the Catholic Church, advanced calculus was discovered centuries earlier, and Leonardo da Vinci's time machine was built to allow Spanish painter El Greco to travel to the 1900s, where he hooked up with sensualist, impressionist painter Paul Gauguin. The two masters set to work on a mural together, with El Greco providing his moody and turbulent, cloud draped backgrounds, and Gauguin producing the enigmatic, colorful yet melancholic characters and content of the foreground.
Perhaps not a truly accurate description of what occurred with the recording of the new release - "Isidore," yet the comparison isn't totally far off, as both artists involved truly paint with music and words. Jeffrey Cain first gained fame as guitarist and leader of the critically acclaimed band Remy Zero - best know for the "Save Me" theme song for the WB hit "Smallville," and has been recently nominated for an Emmy for writing the theme song for the FX series "Nip/Tuck." A few years ago, he passed a tape of one of his songs onto one of his musical idols - Steve Kilbey of The Church, and this immediately began a long distance musical relationship, with Cain sending completed musical tracks to Australia, and Kilbey (a painter in his own right) creating the lyrics and melodies in his brother's Karmic Hit studio in Sydney.
The results are stunning and quietly subversive. Over a barrage of programmed and effected drums, Cain's guitars swirl and shimmer, fading in and out, penetrating and receding like waves on a beach, while pianos twinkle like distant stars. Meanwhile, Kilbey chants out his explorations of memory and loss, time and space, distance and presence, the natural world, the modern world, the supernatural world, the subconscious, the shared consciousness of humanity - personal, yet universal, fragile, yet timeless and powerful.
The opening track - "Musidora" powerfully expresses the beautiful and bittersweet love that exists and includes an example of Steve's wonderful wordplay, where he compares his "special creature" (a daughter perhaps, or is it his muse?) to a "pawnshop Fender." "Refused on Temple Street" continues and takes us into a world filled with regrets, coldness and sadness - highlighted by Kilbey's world-weary, yet intriguing melody and Cain's restrained fingerpicking and layered guitars. The song - "Sanskrit" should be a hit if there were any justice in the world, but of course there isn't. Not merely a nod to Kilbey's interest in Eastern thought, but an exploration of the forces that move our world in confusion. "Yesterday's gone and it's better that way," Kilbey sings dryly.
"The Memory Cloud" can be taken as a frightening visit to the secret places inside us all, while "Saltwater" is one of Kilbey's more literal songs - where a tryst, or merely imagined one, at the beach takes place (or doesn't) and leaves the singer "out here drowning for you in the hypodermic rain." "Ghosting" is a surreal trip filled with shifting, backwards guitar and electronic breaks, while "Transmigration" with it's dual meaning - the movement of people from continent to continent, as well as, the rebirth of souls - is presented within the singer's sorrowful exploration of the pains of fatherhood and the weariness of growing older.
The overall gorgeous resonance requires close and multiple listening, as the various gifts are revealed as you peel away each layer. This recording is a headphone listener's delight, and despite the American puritanical prohibition against consciousness-raising, would be an excellent soundtrack for such endeavors.
Nor is it all fun and games, as "CA. Redemption Value" may be the most frightening song of the year. Is the singer, battered by hypocrisy, lust and evil, wading into the ocean - a suicide? As always, Kilbey's lyrics are interpretable. As time passes and leads us to our ultimate demise, there is fragile beauty of life, but there is darkness within and without, and the songwriter, as always, walks that fine line between joy and madness, trying to maintain balance and achieve some level of understanding in a bewildering existence.
Musically thumbing its nose at popular music, while delving lyrically into depths the surface-skimmers that dominate the radio avoid, Isidore appears as a timely and unique collaboration between two important musical artists. Interestingly, "Isidore" itself can be translated as a "gift from Isis" - the Egyptian goddess of fertility; and as Steve Kilbey so succinctly puts it in the song "Nothing New," which closes the album proper, (don't miss the choice hidden track included as a bonus) - "the gift is today." With all that bears down upon us and threatens to overwhelm and destroy us, this is a musical reminder to let us all not forget this fact.

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