I was seated at my desk, headphones on, my eyes gazing out the windows instead of the monitors in front of me. The cloud was low, misty tendrils lingering over town belt above Thorndon. It look cold, damp, maybe a bit miserable.
Then, just as another bank of rain rolled in from the south, the shimmering 12-string acoustic rolled in, setting the rhythm for ‘Like Rain’, the opening track on End Times Undone, the most recent solo album from New Zealand musical living-legend David Kilgour. And, as another guitar whined and hummed a feedback note, the scene outside my office window transformed. No longer miserable and cold, but pretty and soft. Rain sweeping gently in, but I was coddled in the warmth of a comforting sound.
Kilgour as a solo artist would never be accused of being experimental or avant-garde, but what he does release is always consistent and reliable. You push play on his latest album, and you know you’re going to get sweet jangly guitar-led songs, with catchy multi-tracked vocals and cozy choruses.
End Times Undone doesn’t deviate from the pattern Kilgour’s set over the last few decades, but it’s also never boilerplate. Because part of Kilgour’s charm is his languid looseness; from day one his approach to singing and slinging his guitar has reminded me greatly of a more peaceful, more laid-back Lou Barlow. The songs are full of improvisation and charmingly bum notes, a relaxed style and keenness to not play the same melody exactly the same twice that belies an intense mastery of both the guitar and how to string words and harmonies together to get songs that get stuck right in your head. The best sort of earworms.
End Times Undone also brings with it a gentle wall of sound, a swirl of psychedelia, that brings hints of Jesus And Mary Chain and the 60s and 70s bands that so strongly influenced Kilgour and other Flying Nun originals; bands such as Velvet Underground and The Byrds, hints of Grateful Dead and the country languidness of early Neil Young and his later guitar work with Crazy Horse.
It’s a sound – a “southern psychedelic” – that’s a vital but often overlooked element of what made the Flying Nun sound so distinct during the 80s, an element of stoned jangly that defined a lot of what made early music from The Clean, The Chills, Sneaky Feelings and similar so catchy amongst the raucousness of the loud guitars and low-tech production.
So, it’s a joy to hear David Kilgour pulling back in those pretty swirling elements into this release, with a 21st century production that allows you to hear the multiple guitar parts, each doing their own thing but uniting into a wall of gentle comforting sound.
And, at times, the album breaks loose, and there’s a steady procession from the albums’ gently psychedelic almost-country opening track ‘Like Rain’, to the clashing, clanging penultimate track ‘Down the Tubes’, where Kilgour slashes and bashes at the guitar, angular open chords raining pretty noise down. Then the album closes with ‘You Don’t Get Back’, perhaps the most “Clean-like” song here, big noisy guitar almost overwhelming the muted vocals, Kilgour doing that thing he does so well, flicking his wrist and ripping out a wall of shimmering treble chords as the drums and bass lock down the tune.
But, elsewhere, it’s mostly quite a quiet, gentle, soothing album. Kilgour’s voice, layered on itself many times over, is relaxing and endearing, melding nicely with the way his guitar constantly noodles around the melodies, picking out a joyfully stoned never-repeating hook the songs are hung over.
This record won’t shake the world, but while it is playing it is a joy. Put it on when the weather’s miserable outside, and you’ll feel warmer instantly. Sometimes you need music that’s like a big comfy sweatshirt, lovely and lovable, and enjoyable through and through. End Times Undone does that, very nicely.
Beer match: Think Kilgour, think Dunedin. Think Dunedin, think Emerson’s. The iconic Dunedin-based leader of New Zealand’s current craft beer boom has many good beers that’d go well with this. But, if we’re looking for something comforting to go with listening to this album as the weather packs up outside, then look for Emerson’s ‘Weizenbock’. It’s a dark, rich, malty strong beer, with hints of chocolate and fruit cake, and a touch of spice. Like End Times Undone, it’s a warming beer, a comfort-drink.