Artist: Keep Quiet
Title: Odd New Celebrity
Release Date: 10/15/13
Reviewer: Josh Hamm
You’re soothed into the opener, “Regret,” with a comforting instrumental and soft vocals which lull you into the song. Don’t be fooled, you should keep your head clear, you’ll need it to follow the story. Ryan’s vocals don’t quite transition smoothly from verse to chorus – they fit much better with the shoegaze element of the song rather than the post rock sounds, at least on this particular song. Regardless though, they deliver the message strongly. It’s key that you pay close attention to the words being sung, for this song sets up a frame narrative whereby we realize that the rest of the album shall be told in relation to the events and feelings he describes in this song. It ends on a layered vocal with only a few soft chords played in the background: “Strange how one gets saved and doesn’t change a thing/ Most things come in waves/ but I can only see you when I need what you have. “ Those lyrics set the tone for an album which will shake your convictions and force you to address what you believe, why you believe it, and how you live out your faith. The album doesn’t only ask questions, it forces you to ask the questions as well.
I almost view “Regret” as a precursor to the album, it sets the tone rather than being a part of the whole, so from my perspective, the story begins with “Blame.” It has a decidedly Manchester Orchestra feeling to it, and I think it would make a great single for the album. There’s a standard indie/ post rock sound, complete with slight distortions here and there, and a far from polished production value that adds to the rough thematic nature featured throughout. The motif of this song, surprisingly, is about our tendency to blame others, or even ourselves, for things that are out of our control. The message may be overt, but it’s well said, especially in the verse: “Don’t blame God/Another’s mistake/Can have you looking at Him wrong/And don’t blame yourself/You’re only a man/You can’t control nobody else.” This is carried over into “Doubt:” I love the inflection of the voice in the verses which open this song. The way Ryan sings “Falling never felt so strange” is invigorating. The word “never” is reoccurring, and each time you can hear the feeling behind make the words come alive; “Never fallen down this hard/…I have never felt this small.” There is some unfortunate over distortion a little over the halfway mark which makes the vocals and guitar sound too disproportionate – I suppose it does add to the entropic nature of doubt, and so it does fit in with the song, but all the same I would have preferred it without the distortion. It’s very reminiscent of Over the Ocean’s masterpiece Be Given To The Soil, there are moments which are cacophonous and discordant, but they were designed so.
I love the imagery of this “Guilt.” Ryan describes how the “sea obliged by swallowing/ the passenger that sat between/ the window and the aisle seat” and how “Petroleum has crowned its head in fire/ that dances in the Gulfstream breeze.” Those are some terrific poetic elements to such a terrible tragedy. It follows the last thoughts of our character as he is “twenty thousand feet beneath” He feels guilt for the mistakes he’s done in his life, “I kissed, but never loved her well/I broke the trust of my best friend.” We have just enough information to feel his distress, but not too much. He finishes it off with a single poignant line: “And so it all comes down to this.” When we are confronted with death is the moment when all of our philosophizing and rationalizing is struck asunder by the realization at our inability to keep this mortal coil bound to the earth.
The guitar brilliantly drives into “Lies;” a low riff repeated over and over that sets you slightly on edge while another series of notes that add almost a sort of sing song rhythm to the song. The chorus delivers exactly what a chorus should: it’s catchy but not obnoxious, and actually has value in the narrative of the song and album – it’s not just an excuse to hook the listener. Again there is the poetic touch, the sense of personification of the sea: “Cause you can lie to yourself, you can lie to your friends/ But the sea has a way of discerning intent.” It’s a continuation of the ruminations of “Guilt.”The plot is carried through again in “Fate.” The last two songs were more like contemplative flashbacks, and now we’re back to the meat of the story, after the necessary expose of the character. The opening is surprisingly similar to Coldplay in the vocals, and the music is comparable with SONS. The first lines set up a twist to the story: “I awoke in a hospital.” The chorus is disturbing, because it forces us to again address how it is we see the world: “If it was God I praise thee/Were it fate, then chalk it up to odds and I’ll test my luck.” How many of us truly ascribe praise where praise is due? Or do we chalk it all up to coincidence and luck of the draw? We also get the reference the title alludes to: “I found an odd, new celebrity/One of the few to kiss deaths taxing cheek.” I enjoy the play here on death and taxes, both of course being the only sure things in life, but this man has cheated death. And the only thing that he has because of it is the ever echoing question: Why?
Then, with “Pain,” we see what’s become of this odd new celebrity after his fifteen minutes of fame have expired. It’s thirty years in the future, and he laments how he was “given a chance to make things right,” he had a second shot at life, but he “bottled it up and capitalized…/ I didn’t change, I chose the public eye.” However, it’s not a song that stuck in a rut of depression and regret. It also sets its eyes on grace: “A miracle’s a fraction of what grace is doing/ Healing only comes to those with pain.” After all, those who have been forgiven much will love much as well. The song’s themes bleed through into “Alone,” a recurring action throughout the album that I heartily endorse. None of these songs is truly complete without the other – they function, but their meaning is lost. It’s like reducing a Terrence Malick film to a series of vignettes – you may get some striking imagery and beautiful cinematography, but all of the meaning is only truly found as a whole. So, back to “Alone,” The play on words here is again apparent, as the opening line is “I’ve been thinking on The Fall for days now.” Obviously an allusion to his plane crash, but just as obvious is the Fall of Mankind. It’s a motif woven throughout the song, with references to Eve, the Serpent, fruit, and the idea that he had fooled God all along. This song also has some incredibly bitter honesty, yelled out violently: “ If love is patient, God, and if your love is kind/Why would you wait so long to give me seeing eyes.” But all throughout in the background is another voice yelling “All my hope is in You God.” It’s a masterful blend of doubt and faith. (And those backing vocals are, unless my ear deceive me, sung by none other than Aaron Newberry, whose band SONS came out with an album titled Keep Quiet).
It all culminates in “Wisdom.” Our lead has finally understand his situation, and decides to impart his comprehension upon others before our own planes go down. So that we, the listener, can find meaning without a tragedy to wake us up – he’s trying to save us before we realize we need to be saved. It features another perfect chorus: “You come out swinging with all that you got/You don’t care what we say/You think we’re taking our shots/But I’ve held my tongue for far too long/You see, I care too much to let this go on.” We all know someone like this, who will attempt to deconstruct and demolish our words when we try to reach out, but we try anyhow, because we’ve stayed silent too long, and serial sleepers slay with words unsaid. One of the verses expresses this sentiment well: “That’s the problem with love/It never gives up/It chases you down/Despite your regrets/And you cannot shake what it says.”
Overall: I’m discontent to try to sum up all of which I’ve said above in this tiny paragraph. Be rest assured that Keep Quiet has created a masterpiece here – not without blemish, surely, but their attention to detail and theme keeps Odd New Celebrity grounded in a meaningful medium, and their brand of indie rock is a good avenue to pursue such themes without descending into kitschy optimism or wallowing despair as some other genres might have done with the same themes. Buy the album, savour it, let it run circles in your mind, and think on what you hear. Will it change your life? No, but it may well change the way you think about it.
RIYL: Manchester Orchestra, Coldplay, SONS, Thrice, Standing Small
Pre-order the album here.