There’s something incandescent about David Kilgour’s sound, an echoey surreality, a spiritual immanence that can’t quite be contained in the simple melodies he strums and sings. Whether it’s how he records or how he plays or just how he is, his songs have always been more than the sum of their parts, luminous, mysterious and inexplicably gorgeous. Since his days with the Clean, Kilgour has recorded six full-length solo albums, full of light and dotted with epiphanies but couched in modest psyche-folk-pop terms.
Kilgour’s last album The Frozen Orange was recorded in Nashville with Mark Nevers producing and members of Nevers’ Lambchop sitting in. With The Far Now, he’s back to New Zealand—and back to basics—relying on his long-time band, the Heavy Eights for dreamlike texture and context. The songs on this album range from the very spare—“I Cut My Heart Out Once” is just Kilgour’s voice and acoustic blues guitar—to dizzying density, as on the instrumental closer “Out of the Moment”, with its multiple guitars and rich threads of viola. Alan Starrett, who played a variety of stringed and keyboard instruments for the Clean, supplies violin, viola and cello, adding subtle warmth and plangent melancholy to about a third of the cuts. He is particularly affecting on “Too Long for Me”, underlining Kilgour’s backwards-looking wistfulness with a one-person string trio. “Wave of Love”, one of two cuts co-credited to Kilgour and long-time collaborator Tony De Raad (ex of the Mad Scene), is perhaps the best cut on this uniformly gorgeous album. It piles layers of acoustic guitars, keyboards and harmonies onto its down-drifting melody, yet the orchestration feels light and shimmery as clouds.
The lyrics are lightly mind-bending, as well. “It’s all under fog/ Can’t be seen”, Kilgour sings in “Under Cloud,” simple strummed acoustic overlaid with indefinite slides and harmonies, and it’s like George Harrison at his best, perfectly simple melodies that imply the infinite. Drifting as the words do, in and out of pearlized mists of melody, it is sometimes hard to make them out. Later in"Yenisei” (that’s the name of a river in Mongolia, but it won’t help you understand the song), Kilgour speak-sings the lyrics, slipping above and below the mix of guitars and drums. “I got drunk/ On Yenisei,” he starts, straightforwardly enough, but the rest is a mumble. It’s not quite frustrating, though, because the lyrics you do catch seem to be about uncertainty and indistinctness… it almost makes sense that you can’t hear them.
There are hints of the modern world in these songs—the helicopters in “BBC World”, the the disturbing news programs in “Wave of Love”—yet the music, syrup-viscous guitar slides and radiant vocal harmonies seems to smooth over all troubles. “I can’t get out of this song/ I really could live in this song,” sings Kilgour in the chorus to “We Really Can’t Get Along”. We could all do a lot worse than to live in these songs. Low-key and slow-burning, The Far Now is nevertheless a triumph.