Chances are if you’re pushed for an opinion on Greek pop, soft-focus sepia images of Nana Mouskouri and Demis Roussos are still the first to flicker through your brainbox. But there’s more to Greece than beardy, bespectacled balladeers. There’s the enigmatic duo Keep Shelly in Athens whose penchant for pop falls closer to the lush, electric cinema of Roussos’ good buddy Evangelos “Vangelis” Papathanassiou. Opa! (That’s Greek for “Hooray!”).
Trim with a slim eight tunes Now I’m Ready finds secret sorcerer RΠЯ and new recruit Myrtha (Former singer “Sarah P.” p’d off last year) cherry pick their most beloved synth styles of the last few decades. It’s an admirable effort to tailor a resumé that reads “Two can play that game”. Opener “Fractals” shoots glittery sunbeams over the Antarctic with a slick chill that mirrors the dreampop of M83 so convincingly you could sing “Kim & Jessie” over the top. The nocturnal Euro-goth of “Silent Rain” then dashes “Down the dark of life” into a basement Bohemia swimming in a sleazy sea of leather n’ lace, black nails, Soft Cell handclaps and hairspray. If Non-Stop Erotic Cabarets aren’t your bag the cryptically titled “Line 4 (Orange)” offers a classier affair worthy of Johan Agebjörn. A cocktail shaker of silky Erik Satie style keys, rugged Pet Shop Boys’ Hi-NRG bass and Myrtha’s cool, Ciccone youth ache.
The relentless, shapeshifting of styles make for consistently-inconsistent but entertaining listening. The tense, adrenalised headrush of Hollow Man” kicks with the drum ‘n’ bass frenzy of Goldie’s mid-’90s Metalheadz before “Benighted” dials a ’60s spy noir starring Emily Haines and Marilyn Manson as star-crossed double agent lovers. There’s a tangible sense of impending gloom as dreams drown beneath the paranoia of memory, long shadows and stabbing Halloween chords. Equally grim is closer “Hunter” which crawls with the dread ‘n’ doomed romance of Portishead. A shivery, slow waltz into the woods with itchy hip-hop scratches and one bad moon rising. Myrtha’s voice now a Siren’s beckoning call into the abyss. Luckily, bad addiction yarn “Nobody” throws some neon night relief with pulsating pastels and retro, dry ice sparkle. “I’m a devil walking down your veins” exhales Myrtha pacing the periphery with panther panache. It smokes like the soundtrack to some ’80s, vaguely risqué Adrian Lyne flick with Nastassja Kinski & Mickey Rourke. “Don’t Be afraid” it purrs as you run away quickly.
It’s the title track though that deservedly steals top billing. “Now I’m Ready” featuring fellow Greeks Ocean Hope is a goosebump-glorious, ‘Brat-pack’-style ’80s hyperballad. “You’re my saviour / Whisper to my soul,” it coos. That lovestruck feeling, reminiscent of both Nite Jewel’s lovecrusher “Clive” and the final flurry of countless John Hughes’ joints. A shy, starstruck soul who ultimately kicks common sense to the curb, flips the script and spins on a prayer to race for the prize. Its giddy, runaway heartbeats crescendo is quite electrifying. “YEAH! YEAH!” it screams with intoxicated abandon. It makes you want to do a theatrical star jump off the nearest cliff and dive heart-first into “The Big L”.
There are many moments of magic on Now I’m Ready although its reverent, over familiarity with its ancestry sometimes exposes its Achilles’ Heel. Keep Shelly in Athens clearly know all the right moves but perhaps need to reveal a bit more of themselves and, well, let that ‘Shelly’ out. A few more rivals for the Herculean title track could really put this Athens on the map.