By Jake Paxton
Singer/songwriter Emmett Kelly and The Cairo Gang bring us Gone Missing, a mosaic of music that transcends the often untranscended box that is folk rock. There are a lot of notable territories explored by this trio, and a lot of experimental studio techniques to cover so let’s dive right in.
After listening a few times, I can confirm that it is a pretty good album with a few particularly fascinating facets on the surface and looming well underneath. The album kicks off the track “An Angel, A Wizard” with very slow and minimalist music, and the singer sounds a bit like Bauhaus' Peter Murphy. The staggered double-tracked vocals are interesting and you think “Oh, someone really likes heroin” only because it seems like a song you might here towards the end of a Scorsese movie during the downward spiral when the protagonist is on too much opium.
We are taken directly into “Be What You Are” and it’s a completely different sound. The guitar tone is reminiscent of The Byrds' “Turn, Turn, Turn” and if you couldn’t place it, then I’m sorry because now you will never be able to get the association out of your head. At 2:03, the song is in and out and barreling forth into the third track. Next is “Sniper”. More Byrds influenced tones with loud echoey almost industrial sounding drums. It’s a pretty straight-forward jam with not a lot of dynamics and before you know it, it’s over.
Next on the album is “She Don’t Want You”. There’s that bizarre drum mix again but it works in a very different context in this song. The song is about being heart-broken, rejected by a certain someone who “don’t want you to spend the night”. It’s another quick song with not a lot of dynamics, but some well-layered harmonies. It’s really the first track on the record showcasing their harmony capabilities and won’t be the last. “Chains” brings us down with a more minimalist atmosphere. It’s very calming with lots of reverb and trance-like guitar effects. The song is about chains weighing you down, but learning to accept these responsibilities and learn to love them eventually. It makes me think how children are initially such a burden both physically and emotionally, but when you truly understand the depth of your devotion, you understand that that burden made you a stronger person that is more capable of endurance and patience in all things.
“Gangster’s Holding Hands” is an adorable song with some great lyrics about linking an introvert attitude with a blessed individuality. There’s a lot of interesting percussion work and chord changes. A lot of the lyrics come from surveillance on individuals going through the abyss of the city while criticizing someone who has chosen to stay home and how they’re basically missing out on adventure to pout. The song ends without any warning after a short burst of noise. “A Heart Like Yours” breaks the mold of most of the songs on the album as far as having a lot of dynamics. There’s a lot of parts, and a lot of use of the rise and fall method. It’s kind of a conveyor belt love song with not too much that’s notable lyrics-wise, possibly crafted to be a single; catchy and to the point.
The next track “Some Other Time,” however, is a gorgeous song in my personal opinion. Vocals over stand-up bass, a duo which is an exceptionally rare recording choice. The vocals are haunting and speak sincerely of rejection as stated in “Oh well, we’ll catch up some other time”. Possibly meant to be about trying to reconnect with an ex or an old lost companion. The vibe is changed immediately as the album spins into “Ice Fishing” which is loud, fun and full of fabulous harmonies. At the moment this is the first and only single from the record and is easily the best song choice for hooking someone into buying the album, although not the best representation of the album on the whole which is more of a sedate piece. The way the singer’s vocals flow almost Lou Reed-like over the verses is very pleasant with of course lots of amazing harmonies backing him. You’ll probably listen to this at least twice.
“The Open Sky” is next on the record. The singer sounds to me almost exactly like the singer of The National: gloomy and monotone, yet surprising you in the chorus with a slightly more developed pitch range. The song is very lo-fi, and is probably the least produced track on the album. The choice to make the drums very buried and sounding like it was recorded on a smartphone “voice memos” app to me wasn’t a very rewarding artistic decide, but that’s just my own opinion.
“So What? Who Cares?” is kind of a cute song. I picture Zooey Deschanel dancing pseudo-ironically to it in her living room alone. It’s artsy and has some very rewarding chords changes and harmonies. On the surface, it’s a very pleasant sounding song, especially considering the lyric subject matter (someone needs a hug). The song develops into a jam of harmonies that goes on for minutes (basically half the song), sounding like it works quite well as a closer for a live performance. A very quick fade-out and it’s all over, folks.
If you’re looking for a fun new lo-fi vintage group to perk up your vinyl collection, I recommend The Cairo Gang's Gone Missing. The song writing is pretty minimalist with not a whole lot of things going on per capita, but there’s some notable experimentation with songs like “Some Other Time” and fun dance-able songs such as “Ice Fishing”. It’s always great to hear new groups where they clearly held true to the recording styles of their musical influences while still managing to sound like an original band and I believe that this album is evidence that The Cairo Gang have accomplished this. I look forward to their next batch of recordings as should you.