Wahoo...look at me...going fast...no hands...I'll be finished soon.
#13 Patrick Kelleher and His Cold Dead Hands - Golden Syrup
When Golden Syrup was nominated for the Choice music prize earlier this year I was very excited. I was also perplexed that more than a few commentators had it down as an oddball selection, almost as if it were something thrown in as a complete outside bet to keep the weirdos happy. Were they listening to the same album as me? As far as I could see, Golden Syrup was, and remains, a muscular, cohesive, flat-out album lovers' album; weird granted, but also crafted, musically nuanced, lyrically sophisticated, and stamped through with the mark of its maker. This album is driven by a distinctive vision. It could not be mistaken for the work of anyone other than Patrick Kelleher and his band. They wear their influences sure, but there is no empty appropriation going on with this gang. Surefooted and poised, they've spun out an appropriate sound for the tangled and shadowy love letter Kelleher sings across the album's ten tracks.
An aspect that I, and others I'm sure, found likable about Kelleher's debut album You Look Cold was an endearing eclecticism. It leapt from wispy spooked shreds of things to Moldy Peaches style folk numbers. The most cohesive thing about it was Kelleher's voice. On Golden Syrup the band finds a 'voice' to match Kelleher's (that dark expressive croon of his, so appropriate to an album named after a type of treacle don't you think?), and the result is something that is much more of a piece. They've taken all this weird stuff they listen to, from Belgian cold wave music, to Ariel Pink, to sixties girl groups, to God knows what else, and engineered it into a gear-switching machine on tracks to carry Kelleher's voice down the dark glittering tunnels of his thoughts. Whereas You Look Cold felt like jumping from one exhibit to another, Golden Syrup (with the exception of the dreamy non sequiter Strawberry Dog and the album's quiet coda) is pretty much a smoothly locomotive trip.
As for Kelleher's thoughts, well they are mostly addressed to another; so we might assume that they tell the tale of a love affair, although sometimes it sounds as if he externalizing part of himself. He finds himself at more than one point in an extremely dark and weakened place. On the song Golden Syrup, for example, we hear him sing the deliciously bleak line "did I go this far into the coal shed before", and referencing the Biblical hero Samson who lost his strength with his hair (funnily enough, I remember Kelleher having long hair before this album). There are standard enough lines describing a codependent relationship of some sort, but then these are shot through with moments of surreal psychedelic clarity, little pools of imagery, where Kelleher comes out with this sort of gorgeous, semi-abstract thing: "I could fish and bathe and dress in light/ but I'm bound to serve this Vathekian night" (I googled Vathekian and google said...nope). There are all sorts of shafts of oddness that cut through the darkness like that line, both musically and lyrically, reminders that for the outward pop gloss of songs like 'Seen Me Blue', the heart and blood that animates them is fucking weird. Good weird. Should probably have won the Choice music prize weird.