Kalli | While the City Sleeps (One Little Indian)

cd_kalliKalli is genuinely self-aware, and, like most of us, living by the age-old ethos of "Hope springs eternal," even though disappointment and lowered expectations tend to be the norm.





Melancholic pop with mournful, sweet male vocals. For those times when it hurts so bad… That's not the tagline in the PR for Kalli, the former lead singer of Iceland's Without Gravity (who broke up after only a single album). But it does fit the sound of this young singer/songwriter, who combines the template of Britpop (big, melodic tunes often laced with synthesizer, emotive vocals sung in a high register) with that of Sigur Ros' frosty homeland (aching melancholy, a palpable shimmer in the arrangements and production).

Anything coming out of Iceland, Bjork aside, tends to have a characteristic yearning otherness to it, but Kalli's actually pretty straightforward and down to earth in his aesthetic. Life's really sad and all you can do is look for shelter in the arms of those who love you, basically. Nothing inscrutable about that. While the City Sleeps is melancholy straight up, no chaser, but the sound quality is terrific and Kalli's voice is clear and resonant, if you don't mind that it sounds like Coldplay's Chris Martin rather often. "Can't escape the darkness moving in/ And the bridges burn to ashes in the wind/ I've gotta get back home…" sings our intrepid wanderer, eager for something grounding in the spirit-scattering forces of daily life.

The arrangements are pretty uncluttered – mostly acoustic guitar, bits of atmospheric synth, and effective but simple rhythm tracks. "Back Down" is one of the lovelier tunes, with Kalli hitting that always-pleasant falsetto here and there and getting just the right mix between the slow, steady rhythmic pulse and the background synth. "Sinking slowly down the deepest grave/ Strung out in a haze/ No sleep for days/ I've gotta let go," sings Mr. Cheery on this solemn but poignant track. Kalli, my boy, let's go get us a beer…I'll tell you my tips for surviving those bleak moods and you tell me yours.

"It's Over" is actually one of the jauntier tunes, despite lines like "It's over/ It couldn't get any colder in my heart." When all the songs tend to be of a piece, any minute stylistic differences stand out sharply, and that's the case here. "Morning Rain" is also a stirring composition. The Coldplay comparisons are hard to ignore, though, on tunes like "Jupiter" and "Fear"; take away the British band's occasional bombast and heavier guitar work, and you have a very similar sound. "Sunny Day" and the title track are deeply introspective, somber tunes, with the former's gentle acoustic guitar and pretty harmonies impressive enough on their own, but coming near the end of a record that's pretty heavy going overall, some listeners may not last that long.

Bottom line: Kalli is a talented guy offering the sort of reflective, sad music that sounds great when you're in a "Life keeps lettin' me down" frame of mind. But this won't perk you up or change your mind about anything, though it may draw an interested query from that promising indie rock fan you just started dating when you bring her home for that third or fourth date. "I'm not here to change your life/ Let's wait and see what we find," sings Kalli in "Morning Rain." Such lines show that Kalli is genuinely self-aware, and, like most of us, living by the age-old ethos of "Hope springs eternal," even though disappointment and lowered expectations tend to be the norm. And like life, Kalli's brand of musical introspection is worth holding out for…hopefully it'll yield more surprises down the road. B | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Coldplay, Keane, William Hut

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