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Kirin J. Callinan : Embracism

Kirin J Callinan - Embracism

Despite being one of the biggest countries on Earth, Australia has never been the planet’s most happening musical hotspot; ten years ago I could probably have counted the number of Aussie artists I was familiar with on the fingers of one hand, and two of those would have been Minogues. Now, however, things are heating up down under. As well as hipster faves such as Tame Impala and new pop sensations Jagwar Ma, there are countless great acts – My Disco, Eddy Current Supression Ring, Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, Lost Animal and Blank Realm to name but a handful – flourishing in the shade of the country’s underground scene. Set to blossom next is Kirin J. Callinan, whose debut album Embracism presents the former Mercy Arms guitarist as the fourth face on the yet-to-be-built Mount Rushmore of Australian outlaw rock alongside Bon Scott, Nick Cave and INXS’ Michael Hutchence. Combining the latter’s sleazy confidence trickster charm offensive, Cave’s poet/ pervert duality and AC/DC’s testosterone-fuelled brute force with his own punk-inspired twist on Bowie’s androgynous alien model and a knack for controversy-courting performance art stunts, Callinan is a phenomenon waiting to happen: The Man About To Fall To Earth. Shifting from salty growl to queasy-listening croon like the test tube-grown offspring of Tom Waits, Scott Walker and Captain Beefheart, the singer – assisted in the studio by the Presets’ Kim Moyes and Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor – reels off schizoid tales of love and violence like a silver-tongued snake-oil salesman with a criminal record and a sideline in confrontational, avant-garde industrial rockabilly-noir, or a self-tattooed rock ‘n’ roll rebel with a barely concealed romantic streak and a pocket full of overblown, theatrical pop gems, albeit one whose true intentions are never quite clear. On the title track, over a menacing, Suicide-esque bass pulse Callinan vividly describes two lads scrapping in the school playground (“Rolling around in the dust… Sleeves rolled up, socks pulled down… Blood  flows from one kid’s nose but the older boys want more”) before hinting at the possible homoerotic subtext behind such chest-puffing behaviour (“A man can meet another man in a bar, on the sports field, at his place of work… or in his own apartment, or on the internet right now“) as a storm of jackhammer electronic beats and guitar and synth skree gathers around him; likewise, on the bombastic, “Eye Of The Tiger”-gone-dub-techno “Come On USA”, he decries America’s influence on global pop culture (“Taken right up the backside/ By blue-bloods, by suits, by dollar signs… The land of the free is not what it claims to be“), but when he later claims to “cry every time I listen to Springsteen” one can’t help but believe it’s for more positive reasons than guilt and self-loathing. He’s certainly not averse to channeling The Boss’ fist-pumping rock vibes; whilst Callinan proves perfectly adept at any number of styles – Depeche Mode-style gothic synth-pop on “Halo”, sweeping orchestral rock (“Victoria M”), waltz-time balladry (“Landslide”), mutant post-punk on “Way II War” and the kind of kitchen sink melodrama Brett Anderson or Morrissey used to excel at (“When we crashed your father’s car/ I came back looking for all the tiny shards of glass… I don’t see your mum anymore… but I’ll visit your grave” – “Chardonnay Sean”) – Embracism‘s brightest highlight comes with its big finale, “Love Delay” (below), which explodes from scratchy avant-rock beginnings into a roaring, big-hearted everyman anthem that Broooce himself would no doubt be proud to have written. Of course, by closing time we’re none the wiser as to which of the characters we’ve just met, if any, is the real Kirin J. Callinan but, as with Bowie or Waits or Cave, the air of mystique only adds to the allure; perhaps we should just assume that all of them – the bully boy, the sensitive soul, the smart-mouthed satirist, the techno-tinkering art terrorist, the strutting “Ziggy Pop” spaceman superstar – are in there somewhere. Besides, despite what our instincts tell us, nobody really wants to know a magician’s secrets and, on Embracism, Callinan pulls off some pretty spectacular tricks. Prepare to be amazed.

Embracism is out July 2 via Terrible Records / Siberia Records/ XL Recordings  and is streaming now at Pitchfork Advance


About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

One response to “Kirin J. Callinan : Embracism

  1. BtheC ⋅

    Wow! Bon, Cave and Hutchence comparisons. I need to meet this guy.

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