The Cairo Gang The Cairo Gang

[Narnack; 2006]

Styles: indie rock, indie folk, freak folk
Others: Lou Barlow, Guided by Voices, Pavement

Sometimes shiftlessness over the course of an indie pop album can be endearing. I'm thinking here of the fractured ups and downs of a Guided by Voices or Sebadoh album in their lo-fi glory. Sometimes, though, it's infuriating — actually, most of the time. And still, a shiftless album can vacillate back and forth between poles, eventually coming to rest somewhere near neutrality. That's where The Cairo Gang's oft-meandering debut lands in terms of its overall tone. Moments of neo-hippie jam inspiration are interspersed with tracks of squealing and general noise-making that can alternate between beauty and inscrutability. But the quality of the music that shines through when the sonic texture does settle into a regular pattern resembling a song ultimately makes the ride worth even its bumpier spots.

The Cairo Gang is a pseudonym for musician Emmett Kelly, a road-weary traveler who has finally found a place to light in Chicago. However, Kelly doesn't pull all the strings here; rather, he's recruited a number of talented musicians from other notable Chicago projects (including former Wilco and Euphone contributors) to aid in weaving together his rough-hewn brand of music. Kelly's restless sound shares affinities with many of his idols, but never rests long enough in any one place to give The Cairo Gang a static identity.

"Warning" is indie folk, cleverly peppered with xylophone and recorder, making for the album's first truly magical moment. Kelly's voice seems at first to be fragile and wispy - somewhat like a cross between Stephen Malkmus and Lou Barlow; but soon, after a few tossed-off runs over a syllable or two, one becomes aware that the ostensible frailty is but a charming put-on. Folky moments of melodic bliss emerging from whirling cacophony is the constant throughout the album, and one can't help but feel that Kelly is a man with two great loves that he's trying to reconcile: order and chaos, two contradictory forces that have fueled many of the greatest moments in pop. Other musicians have managed a balance in the past, but Kelly is admirably attempting to find some new ground. While this first pass may not achieve what it reaches for, it still proves that Kelly's on the right path to building a unique voice.

1. Antwardee
2. Resist
3. Warning
4. Hammer for the Temple
5. Assholes
6. Bones in the Ground
7. Turbulent Water
8. So It Goes
9. Last Time Since September
10. Zyczgkowy
11. Silhouette
12. Mother Earth
13. Safe and Sound
14. Funnel Cloud
15. Me and You