Kelman - Loneliness Has Kept Us Alive

George Bass 04/09/2006

Rating: 4/5

CAUTION: This is not self-decimating bedroom rock that you can dance to in public. Nor is it a Microwave Spiel For One that only ever gets a look-in in between broadband failure and midnight masturbation. You put this on at a party, you're probably gonna get one or two frowns. Listen to it on your own, and it might make you think the grass is greener on the other side of your front door. Put plainly, London three-piece Kelman are not the easiest of bands to pigeonhole. If someone tied you to a chair, shone a torch in your face and demanded you sum up their sound in one breath, you might be forgiven for saying "coffee table indie". A fair enough assumption perhaps, provided of course that your coffee table is home to an apocalypse of customised Coke cans, scorched tinfoil and destroyed love letters. Anyone putting this on under expectations of cotton wool MOR romance might want to take a second look at the cover art: a streetbound lurker's view of a lit window in a darkened semi, strangely reminiscent of Scorcese's mentalist cameo in Taxi Driver. Pretty appropriate really, because the emotional flux of Travis Bickle in that pivotal sequence has been hardwired into nearly every note on this record.

The first two lyrics heard after pressing play are 'Drinking alone' - a pretty solid indication of what singer/guitarist Wayne Gooderham has in store for the listener over the course of the next eight tracks. As opening number Fucked And Far From Home gently gathers momentum, Gooderham insulates his vocals with feathery guitarwork and some soaring synths. The lyrics, bleak as Charles Dickens' gaff, describe the slurred anxiety afforded by the dog-end of a boozy all-nighter (see title). Gooderham's softly spoken tones are a deceptive contrast to their darker subject matter, and at a pinch his vocal style could be compared to that of Jyoti Mishra, aka nineties one-man-band-hit-wonder White Town. Though it may sound slightly foggy in places, by recounting gritty tales of love gone dud in his breathy lilt Gooderham produces a quite magical effect - imagine David Gedge teaching slang to Richard Hawley.

However, sombre song titles aside, it's not all doom and gloom; in fact, Gooderham cushions the more downbeat (and downright devastating) elements of his lyrical escapades with some affirmingly incisive observations about the daily grind, and a sense of humour as black as dogs' gums. Lo-fi effort These Days - the antithesis to its Bon Jovi counterpart - is superficially calming at least; in spite of the bleak wordplay ("With the night so wide/There's nowhere left to hide"), a warm organ drone and ticking percussion combine to create a blissed out dirge. This is the kind of song that helps galvanise a Shane Meadows film, and positioned back-to-back with The Happiest Man Alive it provides the slow-burning centrepiece of the album. Originally released as a single (and currently streaming on the band's MySpace), The Happiest Man Alive mixes gently lapping guitars with a stylophone hum and flecks of glockenspiel. The lyrics, sharp as a mouthful of lightbulb glass, pick apart a one night stand in unflinching reproach, and Gooderham's desire to confess is so acute it's as if he's been shot full of sodium pentathol and locked in a basement with The White Angel. "I've changed the pillows and the sheets/Cleaned the come from off of my jeans/But if I found your cigarettes/Then I'd smoke them just to taste your breath one more time". Genius.

The record doesn't once stumble into lacklustre navel-gazing, and the band always ensure that the pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel is never allowed to trip. Instead of a "how can this happen to me" wristslasher daydream fiasco, the underlying message here seems to be "suck it in and jog on". Hearts Break Every Day may have a title to die for, but Gooderham's stained but steely resolve to pick yourself up is planted deep within the Malcolm Middleton-esque guitar. 'Shrug it off/Hearts break every day/Now I know/Today's just another day' he interns, driving home his determination to try again before the track concludes in a lively guitar riff and some keyboard fireworks.

Final effort Some Things Never Work Out continues the chalk-this-one-up-to-experience theme, as we're informed that 'Horoscopes lie/They'll just fuck up your life/That's been shaped day by day/By countless tiny mistakes' before the track erupts into a lazy drum boom and some dazzling slabs of Wurlitzer, bright as an army of swaying lighters. The song instills a level of gallows' humour intimacy that Thom Yorke would be hard pushed to conjure up with all the Warp synths and whingeing in the world, and the only disappointment it brings about is the thick flurry of bass that signifies the end of the album.

Original records for romantic underachievers seem to be thin on the ground these days, though acts such as Arab Strap have proved that you can get tickled by the tentacles of the NME hype machine and still retain your ear for genuine underdoggy style. The pilgrimage from LimeWire to limelight is a tricky one, but Kelman have put together an album that approaches your broken heart with a tube of No More Nails and a craftsman's patience on par with Fred Dibnah. As eerily enticing as Bonnie Prince Billy and as scathing as Darren Hayman, Loneliness Has Kept Us Alive resonates long after its thirty-two minutes and treats anyone in search of straightforward easy listening (g optional) with a swift kick in the knackers. Fingers crossed that Gooderham, Gooderham and Ragsdale will get the audience they rightly deserve.