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David Kilgour - Frozen Orange

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Artist: David Kilgour

Album: Frozen Orange

Label: Merge

Review date: Oct. 11, 2004

David Kilgour and his brother Hamish formed the Clean, New Zealand’s best known punk band, 26 years ago, so it would be more than a little untrue to say that he has finally hit his stride with Frozen Orange. Although the Clean have released only five full-length albums thus far, they released a sufficient number of singles and EPs in their early years that Merge Records attempted to assemble for 2003’s Anthology - 44 songs long. Kilgour has also released five previous solo albums, and while you could certainly argue that all of this material has its high points and low points (you could make that argument about anything after 26 years), the Clean, at the very least, have created a fairly considerable legacy. So no, he’s not “hitting his stride” with Frozen Orange, but, to make a weaker and more accurate claim, he is releasing some of his best material.

Kilgour’s work has never been particularly difficult for his listeners. The Clean were punks because they formed in 1978 and topped their songs out at the three-minute mark, but in retrospect, their music was probably too goofy to live up to anyone’s definition of punk rock. Yes, the recording was fuzzy and the musicianship fairly amateur, but “Tally Ho” wasn’t the act of cultural dissidents. The music was far more concerned with how a squealing guitar would sound harmonizing with keyboards than with shocking some branch of the establishment. Simplicity, directness, and melody – those seemed to be the guiding principles. The culturally aware would still need something to listen to on the way to the beach, and the Clean were there for them.

Frozen Orange might as well have simplicity, directness, and melody stamped like a mantra throughout the liner notes. The songwriting elements are as basic as ever, but working with members of Lambchop and longtime backing band the Heavy Eights, Kilgour is surrounded by a cast of musicians who can carry out his vision. The lead guitar work on “The Waltz” gets matched to a lazy guitar strum that nicely offsets the changes in rhythm; the tempo on “Living in Space” builds imperceptibly to a beautiful chorus thanks to Jason Loewenstein’s drum work; and though they sit on the same piano figure for the duration of “G Major 7,” it undergoes subtle shifts in rhythm that underline the disconnected mood. Nothing particularly complex about any of this, but then again clichés about the importance of mastering the fundamentals recur across dozens of fields of human endeavor for a good reason. Get the essentials down, and you can do anything. Like make remarkable music for a quarter century.

By Tom Zimpleman

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