From the outset, Hong Kong-based Australian artist Kelly Dance’s 2017 release ‘Wild Grass’ is a gorgeously crafted set of cohesive songs all unified by the strength of layered instrumentation and breathy vocals; both at times meandering on dreamy paths that add to the introspective and contemplative tones of the album. Interwoven stories of her Asian travels, exploration and demystification are among themes explored lyrically, while carefully constructed arrangements sublimely emphasise the emotional highs and lows. From the guitar-oriented spine of the songs, the intermittent swells of brass and string sections, illusive tubular bells, decorative flutes, and pounding drums all add to the vibrancy of colour across the soundscape of ‘Wild Grass’.
The optimistically titled, ‘Infinite Possibilities’ kicks things off with twanging guitars and shuffling drums that effortlessly lay the tarmac for KD’s lines, ‘What’s real in my head are the visions that shape my reality’; immediately setting this album aside as introspective, demure and highly self-aware. High-pitched synth arrangements flow smoothly, then dip and ascend to reveal lyrics that are surreal, and dreamy while there is a harmony to the lethargic vocal style, equally smooth and stylistic in delivery.
‘All That Seems’, is chilling as it opens with a minimal lonely guitar (sounding alot like a traditional Chinese guzheng) and breathy vocal like a polished poltergeist wailing in the distance. One-minute in, the full band kick in to reveal a joyous gospel tune whose chorus is layered with backing vocals that swell and continually builds til the organ and distorted guitars growl to a fade.
The 2016 Ep title track ‘All That’s Gained’ is nothing short of ingenious with the gorgeously mystifying tubular bells. They continue deep into the song as vocals as well as other instruments build and entwine around the pivot point. Lyrical surrealism continues in the lines, ‘This shiny city is built from dirt/ Money courses through her veins/ She’s got a tiger’s head with a snake’s tail/ She’s all or nothing either way.’ The song apexes with juxtaposing false-starting guitar stabs with a sublime brass arrangement. Sitting next to the experimental but furiously catchy tune ‘Socotra’, Dance delivers a song so mercilessly cool that you can’t help bopping your head, while simultaneously listening out for all the intricate details in the composition – check out those background bass vocal hums! Brilliant stuff!
Socotra Reprise is an intimate piano lead song, decorated with washes of distorted cymbals, percussion and an assortment of abstract sounds that tremor and agitate. Airstrike is laced with nightmarish imagery of a military airstrike with lovely use of lyrical metaphor, placed alongside the chirpy and playful calls of the flute and brass sections, with touches of piano highlights. Definitely among the best moments of the album with hints of Bonnie Prince Billy, and Bill Callahan.
With a lovely studio sound,‘Birdman’ is distinct as an acoustic ballad. Broken Stone label mate Aidan Roberts (Maple Trail), gives the song an additional element of flavour with his baritone vocals succinct and methodical in his choice of refrain, ‘ Don’t leave me high’. Yes, very cool! While drums shuffle underneath, brass intensifies the mood and lovely piano flourishes convey a sombre meaning to the song. Plucking acoustic guitars on ‘Lost Good Hell’ call and reply on each other while sounding much like an Irish harp. The chorus is a swell of orchestral strings and timpani as Dance sings sweetly, ‘You’re too nostalgic for our lost good hell’.
‘Dangerous Visions’, which also appeared on 2016’s ‘All That’s Gained’ EP is equally one of the highs on ‘Wild Grass’. It is a melody-fueled mirror up to a humanity that currently seems to be on a one way road to self-destruction. Check the lyrics, ‘The Gun club meet to talk this thing called peace/ Our artillery is destined for obscurity/Our chance is now to liberate the people’ With a beautifully delivered oxymoron, there is an undertone of political and personal uncertainty throughout the song, not least inspired by the artist’s current environment. Century Sleep is another fine example of Dance and Robert’s collaboration, with a highly infectious chorus and melody throughout as they interchange the lead vocal line without once disturbing the weighty emotional inflections of this song.
‘Remember Me’ takes a step back in terms of arrangement, and comes as a melodious and dulcet change of pace from the rest of the album; yet no less gorgeous than it’s musical siblings. ‘The Track’ is a heavenly piece of storytelling about a jockey who has fallen from her horse and is down on the track, but the artist choice of words and unwavering optimism plays out so well as the punter in this story looks on. The lyrical counterpoint shifts and he says,’Baby/ it makes me feel so alive/ And it’s a perfect day/ Because the favourite is giving way’.
The title track ‘Wild Grass’ brings closure to the the album, surmising sounds and textures along with Dance’s commanding and distinctive breathy lament. One last musical crescendo swells with drums and crashing cymbals, brass, guitars and reverberating vocal effects all at once over, ending a highly impressive album of unlikely inspiration in Chinese Science-Fiction stories; written as a tribute to living, loving and coming of age in Modern China.
We at ‘The Sound Of Fighting Dogs’ have purchased this record, and suggest you do too.