By: Geoff Topley
Conrad Keely | website | facebook | twitter |
Released on January 22, 2016 via Superball Music
Based on the name alone, you’d expect something pretty savage from a band calling themselves …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. However, over the course of their many albums, there has always been an underlying layer of sublime melodies. They also manage to counteract the chaotic stage performances by being extremely affable blokes. The ever prolific (not just musically, but through his amazing artwork) Conrad Keely has recorded a daring solo album featuring a staggering 24 tracks, entitled Original Machines, it’s something of a departure from …Trail of Dead’s punk/prog soundscapes. Containing songs with lengths between 30 seconds and 4 minutes, it reveals some excellent pop sensibilities whilst retaining a distinct hue of experimentation.
Having spent some time in Cambodia, Keely introduces jungle atmospherics on the album with heavy percussion and titles relating to the country’s places of note. Some of the tracks were written on the …Trail of Dead tour bus, so he hasn’t completely ditched that band’s agitated sound. Apparently there’s the obligatory deluxe packaging for this CD resplendent with 52 page artwork booklet. Now that I’d love to see.
So to the music, which is for the most part, a wondrous kaleidoscope of intriguing sounds, arrangements and pure pop melodies. With 24 tracks, some only scraping over the 1 minute mark, there’s a lot of ideas being presented, perhaps at times the songs feel sketchy and abruptly halted before they come to life. As with Keely’s artwork on …Trail of Dead albums, the guy just has so much creativity the adage of less is more doesn’t appeal to him. Opener ‘Original Machines’ kicks in with driving electro drone pop and a brilliantly uplifting melody, much happier in tone than …Trail of Dead. The track ends before I can get my notes written, argh, I want more! Luckily, the goodness continues swiftly with ‘Warm Insurrection’, a sublime melody fused with bongo beats and searing guitars.
The arrangements are lush on many occasions, ‘In Words of a Not So Famous Man’ offering strings and banjo. Bowie meets the Beatles in the superb ‘Nothing That I Meant (Interstellar)’, with vocals beamed in from outer space before swelling into a truly glorious chorus. There’s a daft and thankfully brief track entitled ‘The Jungles’ that interrupts the flow into the album’s other highlight ‘All That’s Left is Land’. A keening, almost falsetto vocal slides over perfect piano/acoustic pop, it’s a song that Chris Martin would hack a leg off for. The slinky piano and acoustic led pop nugget that is ‘Engines of the Dark’ is in the vein of Noel Gallagher, only much, much better. Keely sounds a little like Liam G on ‘Trust the Knowledge’, the lazy vocal style working well with rolling bass and swooning strings.
Some tracks have a distinctly experimental sound. Both ‘Inside the Cave’ and ‘Drive to Kampot’ are heavy on the percussion but less immediately melodic. The scattershot snares and rubbery bassline of ‘Your Tide is Going Out’ combine well with scraping and roaring guitars, the track lacks a little in melody, but not menace. Throbbing bass, twinkling electronics and an upfront drum machine provide the backdrop for another falsetto vocal on ‘Forbidden Stones’. Then the ‘ol banjo pops again to have you wondering “what the fuck?!”. Dreamy vocals and a fine summery melody weaves throughout ‘Row Away’, a track built on a bedrock of twinkling xylophone and a sassy rhythm.
The tracks recorded on the tour bus are perhaps more apparent, ‘Hills of K-town’ sounds like a lo-fi Sugar or a …Trail of Dead demo. Driving pop punk and a nagging guitar line is to the fore on ‘Drive Back to Phnom Penh’. Swirling guitars clash with a yearning melody on ‘Out on the Road’, a track which is pure …Trail of Dead. Keely dispenses with a chorus, but the verse is damn good, it doesn’t need one. Yet at the same time, ‘Rays of the Absolute’ is miles away from the regular job with new wave analogue synths fused with a robotic vocal.
Keely’s background also influences the sounds on the album. The beautiful lament that is ‘Looking for Anchors’ has an Irish folk tinged melody over a slow paced piano and organ backing. The very brief but gorgeous interlude ‘Waimanalo Drive’ has Hawaiian tones and album closer ‘Before the Swim’ is just one of many tracks that touch on Britpop (Keely was born in England). However, the album’s close drifts off in quality a little, I think a little pruning might have been pertinent considering the sheer number of tracks.
Conrad Keely continues to produce music and art of exceptional quality, this solo album confirms that he has a seriously good way with a tune and is a very talented musician. The tragedy is that much like Trail of Dead, this is only going to be heard by a select few. Keely is now in his 40s, perhaps the years of hard rock n’ roll touring with his bandmates is catching up with him, for this collection is a mellow and more uplifting set than we are accustomed to hearing from him. Definitely appealing to fans of Trail of Dead, there’s no reason for it not to reach a wider audience.