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Kepler: Missionless Days

REVIEW: Kepler: Missionless Days
8.12.2002 by Sean

Kepler : Missionless Days [Troubleman Unlimited, 2002] (mp3s)

Three words? a covered flame.

Kepler's Missionless Days is a dusky, slow-simmering album, with gleams that show through the haze as plucked guitar or the fading voice of a lap steel. Like the silhouetted image of its cover, this is music for houses under red skies, sung by bleary-eyed young men as an alternative to screaming... it's big electric guitars with the amps turned right down, the strong-shouldered drummer with brushes in his hands. Its songs are slow and fuzzy, but where the glimmers show through - the sea-warmth and star-glitter of "Our Little Museum", the sleepy guitar swell on "Vociferous Designs" - there's a clarity far more subtle than that of Low's vocal harmonies or the Red House Painters' whine.

Samir Khan and Jon Georgekish-Watt trade singing duties, with supporting vocals from a handful of other players. Meanwhile, guitar, kit, bass... the regular rock lineup gets together and waits for fireworks. "Dogs and Madmen" is the trotting, upbeat song for en route; "oh now, I must be getting on / ... though I smile in silly glee / I'm not made of stone," sings Khan over a confident, striding rhythm section. There's an easy affinity between the members of the four-piece, a familiarity of tone and colour. As the slow-revealing "An Elegant Game" blossoms out of voice and piano, there's the intimacy of firelight. On Kepler's past record, 2000's Fuck, Fight, Fail, it was the band's quietest moments that fastest bored - and consequently, much of the album was a slog. There, the standout was the instrumental surge of volume in "The Changing Light at Dawn", where a climax of noise, fuzz and melody knocked clouds and sun clear out of the sky. On Missionless Days however, Kepler seems to have overcome its initial failings, and David Draves has recorded a record whose restful moments stay powerful, the silences between guitar-notes and snare-beats like the pauses in breath between lovers' whispers.

And then at the close of the album, in the slow-but-ever-rising "Elemental: Blood or Water", we even get a peppery echo of "The Changing Light at Dawn"... feedback hisses out from the walls, drums stagger up the stairs, and there's volume, passion, the rush of air from an open mouth, the black noise of closed eyes.

There are moments when the empty room music becomes a little too much - Georgekish-Watt's solo voice at the quiet opening of "Elemental: Blood or Water" strains under the weight of his own melancholy - but the band emerges every time with a flicker of sound, a shift of atmosphere that rescues the listener before they can cry for help. Kepler's lyrics have been stripped like wood, knots and sinewy bends atop the bare, blanched board. There are snatches of Rembrandt-hued images here: "I am the steel I am the stone / stilts on a flooding plain / and I don't believe that I will stand / after tomorrow's rain." ("The Steel and the Stone"); "drink up, drink up / tonight your soul may be required" ("Salvation"); "waitresses asleep on tables and floors" ("A Workhorse").

Although Missionless Days lacks the vivacity to hit it out of the park, the album is an awesome step forward for Kepler, and there is enough beauty, sound and poetry here that a touch more of the avant-garde -- a stepping-out from the lit circle of the known -- would bring with it, I think, a masterwork.

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