Nick Bollinger delights in the lush folds of a fairytale concept album by Clean founder Hamish Kilgour, but fails to follow the storyline.
From the sounds of a warped Mr Whippy truck and a voice intoning the name ‘Finkelstein’ that open this album, it might be the start of a musical fairytale. But the garage rock groove that follows has the unmistakable fingerprints of Dunedin music veteran and Clean founder Hamish Kilgour.
Only the second album he’s ever made under his own name, it was recorded over a period of a year in New York City, where Kilgour has lived now for more than two decades.
Finklestein is a musical fairytale – sort of. The title apparently refers to a story Kilgour made up to amuse his young son, about a kingdom that invents a way of dealing with their depleting gold resources. Only you would be hard pressed to glean much of the narrative just from listening to the record.
There are angels in this tale, as ‘Strange Angel’ reveals, though Kilgour’s approximate stab at a vocal doesn’t really tell us much about them. That’s left for us to imagine, prompted by the ethereal patterns of keyboards and guitar that swirl around between minimalist verses.
And that’s pretty much the way it goes, which doesn’t mean there aren’t some thrilling sonic moments.
Three songs into the album and I’ve completely lost any thread of a story, if there ever really was one. Still I love the rich, reverb-swathed sound of ‘No Money Train’, with a rhythm that rattles like a train on a wobbly rail.
As for Kilgour’s singing, it could probably best be described as characterful. But to provide some melodic relief, he has a couple of guests, including the little-known but lovely singer-songwriter Jared Eggers on the sweet country waltz of ‘Sidetracked’.
But it’s not long before we’re back on the rails again, and heading – by the sound of things - into a long dark tunnel, with the murky raga Kilgour calls ‘Whistle Stop’.
There are less expected stations on this railroad as well, like ‘Brasilia 666’ - which crosses Kilgour’s garage-rock aesthetic with the Latin tinge of Sergio Mendes. And there are sparing but gorgeous splashes of pedal steel guitar and saxophone, instruments that would have been all but outlawed in the early days of the Clean.
But it all reaches a suitably psychedelic conclusion in the penultimate song, ‘Gold’. By this stage I have no idea what the story is or how it resolves, but I’m happy to bury myself in the lush folds of this music and just make up my own.