Similar to albums by Kilgour's band the Clean, End Times Undone feels longer than it is, in a good way.
"That record's one of the best I've heard in a long time." So the clerk praised my purchase of David Kilgour's Frozen Orange a few years ago. That album featured Kilgour's cover painting of a diver amidst bright coral and clear water, and so does this latest release. But on it, no diver can be seen, only coral. Perhaps End Times Undone hints at a more natural setting, or a more apocalyptic one?
Whatever the reason for the title, these 10 short songs capture the buoyant mood of this singer and guitarist from longtime New Zealand indie stalwarts the Clean. Backed by guitarist Tony de Raad, bassist Tom Bell, and drummer Taane Tokona, these modest songs begin in spirited good cheer.
"Like Rain" soars with optimism despite its title, as after all, this is New Zealand where such weather may more be the norm than the exception. "Lose Myself in Sound" sustains the buzz and lo-fi charm of the Clean's guitar workouts. "Light Headed" prefers to settle down, with a measured use of percussion, reverberating production, and a headier production integrating whispers over keyboards.
So much of the music from these islands gains its ambiance from the setting, and this record feels both lazily played and carefully arranged. That is, while the recording of this over the past few years came from not steady tinkering over songs, but days now and then when the Heavy Eights convened to record quickly, the combination of leisure and efficiency sinks into these congenial grooves.
A previously released single, "Christopher Columbus", celebrates an early mariner's quest west. Jangling, this updates on the shanty to convey the restless nature of those who seek out another way. "Spread a little light around, send it in the right direction. Bound to need a rest, everybody needs a rest." This unassuming tune displays Kilgour's three-plus decades of songcraft simply and deftly.
An edgier "Crow" uses a prowling guitar arrangement and grumbled vocals to explore a darker mood. It ends without resolution, as if the singer still seeks a meaning that eludes him. "Dropper" swirls up a spacier sound, hinting at psychedelic influences even if the production refuses to give into, at first, to its typical phasing or effects to illustrate an altered state. It holds back, so when such elements enter, they prove more rewarding for having been delayed. Whereas an acid-rock band would have over-indulged, the brevity of the Heavy Eights under Kilgour's control keeps these moments brief.
The soft-rock strums of "Comin' On" circle around themselves, as doubt in the lyrics plays off against the cheer of the guitars over a steady bass and reliable drums. Kilgour deepens the resonance of his vocals in the mix as he contrasts chipper instruments with darker words. Again, it's a humble success.
An underwater distance echoes in "I Don't Want to Live Alone"; the lyrics of isolation and loneliness stand out more on this track as the instrumentation is pared down, heavy on the snares and keyboards, both processed to increase their gloomy impact. It's closer to a jazz vocalist than an indie-rock guitarist's moment before the mike. "Down the Tubes" continues this feeling of depression as the album winds down. The keyboards rise up and the guitar, bass, and drums beat them back, as the singer contends with his longing for unrequited love, seconded by a repeated riff which grows as the song continues.
A bit of a boost seemed timely at the end. "Some Things You Don't Get Back" cautions the hearer against too much hope, however. "Running out of gas," floats up from the vocals, and the impression remains that this final song wishes to stick to the increasingly sad mood of the track sequence.
Similar to albums by the Clean, End Times Undone feels longer than it is, in a good way. It packs pleasant moments into its short span, but it prefers to settle down with a listener ready for unsettled introspection, for an immersion into intelligent songs from a reliable musician fronting a solid indie band.