Review of Keeley's Drawn To The Flame

A joyful journey to the truth about good and evil.

 
Artwork for Drawn To The Flame by Keeley

Imagine this scenario:

Sceptic #1 (music was better in my day): music is just a vehicle for young uns' egos these days.

Sceptic #2 (nothing good released after 1995): Yep just all about fame and celebrity.

Me (tentatively clearing throat): erm ...

Sceptic #1: oh look out here's Mr Blowtorch, down with the youth of today

Me: hardly but a) that's all bollocks and b) please checkout Keeley. Specifically their new EP/mini album Drawn To The Flame.

It's hard to imagine someone less ego driven than Keeley's frontwoman Keeley Moss. Every song she has written is about the murdered German backpacker Inga Maria Hauser and in the first song from the album she explicitly sings "to bring you back I'd give my life away".


I first heard Keeley when she was being interviewed on Dermot White's excellent 'They Say I Live In The Past' radio show (NB sceptics #1 #2 - its an ironic title). She recounted how when she first heard (and fell in love with Joy Division), it chimed with her because it resonated with the noise of the traffic on the motorway outside her bedroom window. Now that's psychedelic. That's the kind of artistic, musical mind you want.


She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of what might be loosely termed indie guitar rock yet also loves the popular end of the music spectrum. When we chatted in one of our podcasts, I mentioned that one of her tracks reminded me of Bananarama and she was delighted! You can hear some of these touches in her music yet the subject matter remains dark; and that contradiction adds a pleasing frisson to the songs. You could call it a concept work except that the whole of Keeley’s oeuvre is a concept dedicated to memorialise the murder of Inga Maria.


She is no Janey come lately, jumping on the true crime bandwagon. Her blog dedicated to the German teenager has been running since 2016 and runs to over 35 highly detailed posts. Indeed it is largely through her efforts that the case has been kept in the public eye resulting in a recent BBC Northern Ireland documentary on Inga's unsolved murder.


In our podcast chat she also mentioned that she wrote her first song aged 16 - and no one would ever hear it! She seems now to have entered a purple patch of perfectly pitched dreamy psych that everyone should hear. Maybe it was her signing to south east London based label Dimple Discs that kickstarted the confidence to deliver this stunning run of alternative, deeply thought yet radio friendly music.


The first song Shadow On The Hills is vaguely reminiscent of The Beatles' Here Comes The Sun albeit with the tenebrous lyrical traits mentioned previously. This is directly comparable to Marr's sumptuous musical arrangements colliding yet coalescing with Morrissey's Pretty Girls Make Graves, Miserable Lie and Suffer Little Children on the debut Smiths long player.


Really? may ask sceptics #1 and #2. Well, the next three tracks are titled Boarded Up In Belfast, Dead On Arrival and Where The Monster Lives and are backed with gorgeous uplifting arrangements. The first of this trifecta is like a 90s House of Love rapture fest and the last the best song REM never wrote. Unlikely subject matter for commercial success yet one suspects that is not the aim here even though the tracks are examplars of alternative dream pop. This body of work is about getting to the truth and stripping back obfucscation, even while it is all wrapped it up in Alan Maguire's sympathetic, shimmering production.


A journey to the heart of darkness, to Alice in Wonderland gone bad but through a thrilling, psych-tinged landscape of artful, arpeggiated synths and guitars.


There is hope here too in the way that Keeley cleverly captures the joy Inga was feeling on her journey to Ireland - an existential joy which is universal. She also somehow manages to provide Inga with an afterlife. As we vicariously experience her last hours, the songs give her back what she was denied 34 years ago - in particular Saw From The Sea and Gift From Ghost.


The latter, which closes the album, has a joyful Marr style riff and extended, spacey instrumental breakdown worthy of Pink Floyd. It reminds us to breathe again after the dense, Stygian darkness of the journey to this point. To Inga herself singing Greensleeves - light out of the darkness.

 

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