David Kilgour's been making pop music for over 25 years, starting with his brother Hamish in the Clean, one of New Zealand's most influential bands, and continuing with Stephen Snapper, and the Great Unwashed. He's also released a string of quality solo albums since 1992, honing a melodic, guitar-based sound. For his sixth solo CD, Frozen Orange, Kilgour took a little bit different approach. He joined up with members of the oddball Nashville group Lambchop, whom he's toured with, to back him on all but two songs. The recording sessions were several firsts for Kilgour: he did most of the recording in Nashville, and he turned the producing duties over to Mark Nevers (producer/engineer for Lambchop). The changes are slight risks, but Kilgour's songs successfully remain tight and interesting.
Kilgour can be a clever songwriter, but sometimes he's at his finest when he keeps it extremely simple. The lyrics to the title track consist almost entirely of "He's gonna blow you away," but the song never becomes dull. Kilgour uses his voice and words as part of the orchestration of the song. Steady drums, light bass, a smooth guitar, and a subtle synthesizer create the music here, basing it more on a drone than a hook. Kilgour has written his guitar part as if imagining John Lee Hooker playing psych-pop, and it's a flawless groove.
"The Waltz" pulls on yet another musical style (which, of course, gives the song it's title). A Wurlitzer song in 3/4 time set in a "seaside shanty town" makes a statement about what the album's going to be like. It's a bit of an odd choice, but it serves Kilgour's purpose, announcing that Frozen Orange is going to be eclectic while retaining a coastal feel. More important than its contribution to the album's structure, perhaps, is the fact that the song, with its catchy melody and soothing sound, is good.
After setting up the album with a song that's simultaneously lulling and intriguing, Kilgour changes moods with "Living in Space". He shifts to a standard pop 4/4 time at mid-tempo and announces, "You lost that summer feeling long ago." This track reads like a downer and feels like a breeze, and it's as catchy as anything that's been released this year. Then, Kilgour and mates pick up the intensity, and the song builds until a perfectly-executed synth solo bursts out amid loudening drums. The solo continues the direction the song had been taking. It increases the tension, but never returns to a resolving chorus.
If "Living in Space" contains the album's musical pinnacle, "Dogs Barking" provides the lyrical quintessence. Here, as elsewhere, Kilgour is both emotionally lucid and literally complex -- you know just how he feels even if you don't know what he's talking about. The mood centers on "a powder-blue day [that] blew me out of bed, saving my life" but twists around other topics like family and drifting and love -- the issue at hand is "all of these things". Kilgour's thoughts are perfectly clear and yet not paraphraseable, which isn't to far from John Keats's view on poetry. Too many terrible lyrics have been written with this style in mind, but Kilgour seems able to pull it off repeatedly.
Then again, Kilgour seems able to pull it all off repeatedly. Each song fits the albums tone, is unique in itself, and sounds quite wonderful. Kilgour's song structures and orchestration never miss, and his lyrics always avoid being less or more than what they should be. Somehow he's managed to pull in the sounds of several continents and at least one ocean and made it feel like something natural.