David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights

It's not always about the old dog learning new tricks. Sometimes, it's about the old dog showing the puppies how it should be done.

David Kilgour & the Heavy Eights

Left by Soft

US Release: 2011-04-26
Label: Merge
UK Release: 2011-04-26
Artist Website
Label Website

First off, let's get this out of the way: This is not a comeback album, or a return to form, or anything like that. If Kilgour has been anything over the course of his 30-odd years in music, he has been consistent. He was, after all, in the Clean -- quietly one of the most influential bands in independent music -- and they just turned out the solid Mister Pop in 2009, and Kilgour has his own string of great solo albums, including classics like 2002's A Feather in the Engine. He hasn't recorded with the Heavy Eights, though, in four years, but in listening to Left by Soft, you'd never know it.

The band recorded these songs at a cabin outside Dunedin, New Zealand, and you can feel the laid back nature of their surroundings in these loose rock songs. Kilgour and company did very little in the way of overdubs here, and rarely cleaned anything up too much in the mix. The result is an organic and dusty rock record that still manages to shimmer at all the right times.

These guys bookend the record with two instrumentals, the title track and "Purple Balloon", as if to tell us they're a full band, a cohesive unit, and not just singer and backing band. The two songs also highlight the two sides of the band's sound. "Left by Soft" is a crunchy rock number. The guitars ring and buzz, the rhythm section charges ahead, building momentum into the rest of the record, while closer "Purple Balloon" comforts with dreamy but thick layers. The playing here comes from guys who know each other well, who have an established chemistry. So if these songs feel loose, it's by design, by the framing of riffs and the crash of drums, because the playing is incredibly tight all the way through.

In between those two songs, there's also a subtle variety to what they do. "Way Down Here" is particularly impressive, shifting from jangling pop -- Kilgour's long-established specialty -- to grinding rock. As our first taste of Kilgour's vocals on the record, it shows range there, too. He starts with a watery warble, but when the band kicks it into high gear, he adopts a youthful shout, inviting us down into the fray with him. It juxtaposes nicely with his sweeter singing on the rippling "Steet Arrow" or the dusty shuffle of "Pop Song".

Suffice it to say, Left by Soft charges out of the gate, but the middle of the record slows the tempo and attempts to thicken the layers and shift tones. With lesser bands, this might come off sounding flabby, but not with these guys. "Autumn Sun" stands out with its guitar heroics, the solos bending and squealing over the otherwise boozy stomp of the song. "Diamond Mine", on the other hand, becomes a huge, shining pop song. The layers here get buffed to a blinding sheen, but the tight rhythm section still keeps the energy up. Kilgour layers his vocals in effects here, and buries them down in the mix. While you're straining to hear what he's saying, you almost miss how the guitars take on muscle here. They build and swell, growing a fuzz as they do, and the song keeps stretching out so when Kilgour sings "And if you keep on going, the sky will break through on the other side", you know he plans to do just that. This song, bright as it is, is searching for more light, trying to eliminate the boundaries around its sonic landscape, and damned if it doesn't succeed.

David Kilgour's sure hand is all over this record. Like the best stuff from the Clean, Left by Soft sounds immediately recognizable, but still difficult to pin down. Is it a pop record? Yes. Is it a rock record? Absolutely. Kilgour and his band rip through these songs with a vitality and energy that never loses its careful touch. They build echoing layers without ever obscuring the distinct parts and vibrant melodies of each song. Sure, Kilgour has been around a long while, but it is not always about the old dog learning new tricks. Sometimes, it's about the old dog showing the puppies how it should be done.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.