The previous album from The Cairo Gang, 2015's Goes Missing, reviewed by me here back in 2015, was a real surprise. The songwriting skills of Emmett Kelly seemed the sort of thing that I should have been aware of much sooner. Kelly is back with a new Cairo Gang record, Untouchable, out Friday on Drag City, and the results are more of the same sort of clever indie-pop that made the band's earlier record such a success.
The lovely "Real Enough to Believe" marries an airy Beatles-in-1965 melody with instrumentation similar to that found on the last Cairo Gang record. It is the sort of tune that sounds so perfect, so effortlessly sublime, that it makes a listener want to start telling everyone about this Emmett Kelly cat. On the title cut, Kelly channels Chris Bell solo sides to glorious effect, his voice achingly emotional in the right, subtle way. Elsewhere, on the bristling "In The Heart Of Her Heart", Kelly marries a trace of early Joy Division and other mainstays of post-punk's first wave with a power-pop kind of tune. The result is the sort of all-too-brief gem that one wishes there were more of on Untouchable. The album is a bit brief but at least there's nothing wasted here, not when something like "Will It To Be" shows up. A gentle, odd melange of bits of solo Lennon and pre-disco Bee Gees nuggets, the cut is like some gem someone found on an old 45 in a thrift-store in England. Gloriously poppy and altogether too bright to be called pop, it is, like so much of what Emmett Kelly commits to vinyl, fabulous music. As Untouchable ends, on the excellent "What Can You Do?", a listener is further convinced of the genius of this Kelly fellow. This final tune is so good, combining so many things loved by so many music junkies -- a bit of early ELO, a hint of a George Harrison solo single, a burst of cleverness from an old Chilton composition -- that it's hard not to fall rapturously in love with music like this.
When he's on, Emmett Kelly is one of the very best songwriters operating in the world today. And, luckily, he's on throughout much of Untouchable, the new Cairo Gang record.
[Photo: Nancy Neil]