Written by: Jen Dan
Sphinx-like to forthright mystical man of words Steve Kilbey and ambient soundscape auteur Martin Kennedy are a match made in musical Elysium. Kilbey, a founding member and frontman for long-running Australian dream-rock band The Church, and Kennedy, the maestro of the Australian All India Radio music project, have blended the best aspects of their talents and put them on radiant display as their joint venture Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy.
Kilbey and Kennedy have carved time out of their super-busy schedules here and there to craft songs and record together, releasing four albums of original songs and three discs of commissioned songs so far. In order to finance SK & MK, the duo took requests, and payment, from their fans and created tunes based on the lyrics and/or ideas that were sent to them. The two men have selected their most favorite commissioned songs for public presentation via the Songs from the Real World records, with Vol 3 being released this past September 30th.
The duo spin true-life, story-telling tales with Kilbey’s lush, velvety vocals couched in Kennedy’s dawning synths and acoustic guitar strum. There is not much of a dividing line between the quality and style of the pair’s original songs versus the commissioned songs, at least sonically, although sometimes the lyrics tend to be simpler and more straightforward on the commissioned songs due to what Kilbey was sent as requests. There is a sweet charm and warmth to many of the fan-asked-for numbers because oftentimes the subject is about a specific loved one. Songs from the Real World Vol 3 is actually more varied than the previous two platters, containing only two songs titled by name, the pleasant “Caroline” and “A Song for Mike.”
The poignant and timely “Immigrants Travel” is both personal and universal as it recounts the migration of a Middle Eastern family. A heartfelt Kilbey intones “…the immigrants will find their way to a new home… / May they find a welcome.” Kennedy creates a weighty world out of a subdued pace and longing, suspended synth lines. Psychologically thought-provoking lyrics stand out on “Is This Heaven”, with Steve, as the protagonist, questioning “Is this life? / I thought there might have been a bit more to like…” He’s supported by strummed acoustic guitar and electric guitar lines, as well as a quick drum beat, occasional cymbal hits, and the symphonic swell of pulled strings.
A dreamy wash of scintillation, light, bittersweet synths, and reverb guitar notes float over the supremely touching “Watching Over My Tomorrows” as Kilbey sing-talks in a plaintively earnest tone “And you never wanted me to write your song/because it would mean that you have gone/to somewhere that I can never follow /and you are still watching over my tomorrows.” The atmospheric, lightly ascending to the heavens “Never Tomorrow” brims with bleakly biting lyrics that are offset by the slow drift of delicately shimmering and gently spiraling synths and reflective acoustic and electric guitar notes. Kilbey bemoans in a regretful tone at the song’s opening, “From a distance you were beautiful / but up close it’s all gone wrong.”
Kilbey and Kennedy always seem to manage to start off their albums with a song that’s shrouded in spellbinding mystery and “Captain Mission” is no exception. It wanders placidly, but hauntingly with lightly glimmering synths, picked acoustic guitar, a deep bass line, and Kilbey alternating between spoken word, where he intones glowingly of “…the glory and the light of the jungle…” with its “jaguar” and “anaconda”, and wistful musings about “divine intervention” and “ …tribal passion for life and all its diversity.”
On the relaxed album-ender “Lectoure Blue” Kilbey spouts some mildly wild lyrics regarding the color/mood blue, somehow throwing actress Monica Bellucci, French entertainer Johnny Halliday, Napoleon, a Roman mausoleum museum, and a starfish into the mix, while also musing enigmatically that “I’m still thinking about eternity…”
You can order the album here: