The Clean member Hamish Kilgour's first solo record, All of It And Nothing, doesn't seem interested in grabbing for your attention.
For a member of one of the most influential rock acts of the past three-plus decades, the Clean, Hamish Kilgour lives pretty under the radar. Aside from the Clean, Kilgour also fronted similarly excellent band the Mad Scene, but All of It and Nothing is Kilgour's first solo record. This is in stark contrast to his brother, David, who has been cranking out records, including this year's End Times Undone. David Kilgour has been denting and twisting the rock guitar wheel into his own oval for years, making big, lush textures on each record. He's made his own name outside of the Clean. With Hamish, on the other hand, you can hardly even track down a promo photo of him for this new record.
Like Hamish Kilgour himself, All of It and Nothing doesn't seem interested in grabbing for your attention. The album, recorded by fellow former Mad Scene member Gary Olsen, sounds deliberately quiet, stubbornly subdued. The songs are almost uniformly built on rattling acoustic guitars and Kilgour's hushed vocals. It's not an album that lures you in with its quiet so much as it seems to chug along and, if you happen to hear, all the better.
But this unassuming feeling actually serves the record well, and fans of all those Dunedin bands will find plenty to like here. This record plays like a shadowy, solo take on the jangling sounds that Dunedin sound was built on. Opener "Here It Comes" has faint percussion, but the egg shaker and tambourine seem only to punctuate moments in the circular guitar hooks. So too a faint toy piano plinks away, adding a staccato tension -- however faintly -- while Kilgour's voice wanders over the track. "Here it comes, it's gonna knock at your door," he warns, but he seems to view the threat through some narcotic haze, as if it's an otherworldly, almost welcome interruption. "Strength of an Eye" has the same circular guitar work, but more insistent percussion, and as Kilgour tells us that the titular strength is "when it sees", we see our observer -- Kilgour -- barely beef up his sound with swelling, restrained distortion.
The record, despite its quiet, does manage to push at its borders in interesting ways. Airy organs tangle up the melodies on "HK Eleven Eight". Instrumental chugger "Rave Up" pits syncopated percussion work against psychedelic organ swirls and distant voices bellowing wordless chants. It's as unhinged as the record dares to get. Meanwhile, the seven-minute "Hullabaloo" is the record's most ambitious moment. Kilgour treats his acoustic guitar with reverb and clears up the hooks a bit. The guitar gets more and more percussive, more worried as it goes on, and organs and atmospherics swell and fill up the middle of the track, creating a fascinating confusion.
In "Hullabaloo", we see a tension that holds up this soft sounding record, as here Kilgour seems to worry about the thin line between wandering and being lost. All of It and Nothing would be better served by exploring that worry a bit more. For all its unassuming charm, it is also a record that can be too subdued for its own good at times. Where "Hullabaloo" fascinates, "Smile" runs out of steam despite its picked-up pace and "Crazy Radiance" goes for dreamy texture and nearly nods off. The mere existence of this, a solid solo record from Hamish Kilgour, is cause for celebration, and it certainly continues the legacy of the Dunedin sound while also reimagining it in a new, more solitary context. But it's also a record that hints at ambitions it never quite feels like exploring, and so as the record glides pleasantly by you may find yourself wanting it to hit a rut once in a while, to explore some of the complications it only hints at sometimes.