‘It’s all Bravado’ in the vibrant world of Kirin J Callinan
Adam Ramos | Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Mac DeMarco is one of the few artists I actually enjoy listening to in interview. His mix of bubbly optimism, unwittingly smooth dad-vibes and silly demeanor form a contradicting spectacle that is both hilarious and admirably cool in every sense. I therefore hold his music recommendations very highly — which is where I first heard the name Kirin J Callinan. While Callinan’s blend of pop bears little resemblance to Demarco’s tranquil rock melodies, the connection between the two is more personal. On Callinan’s recently released sophomore full-length record “Bravado,” the Aussie, along with a few friends — Demarco included, joyfully mix humor and pop to form one of the year’s most exciting records.
To start, let me be clear here, “Bravado” is not a comedic record. Yet, I can’t think of many recent records, comedic or otherwise, that are as humorous. Much of this discrepancy can be explained by Callinan himself: the man simply breathes comedy. If you don’t know what I mean just watch his short but hilarious “Behind the Music” style mockumentary. Even the music videos released in support of the record convey a similarly cheeky ambivalence, each starring the Aussie sporting his signature pencil mustache and mullet. The confounding, but ultimately provoking question behind all of the fanfare quickly becomes: If it’s all one big joke, why is the music so good?
The first minute of album opener “My Moment,” with its mournful guitar melody, brooding vocals and mellow synths, reflects the darker energy of Callinan’s previous record “Embracism.” And then there’s a drop — a tangible transition into a brighter and more vibrant palette. Suddenly the track breaks into a euphoric, Notre Dame stadium-worthy anthem, Callinan and underground Montreal vocalist Sean Michael Savage the omnipresent emcees beckoning the audience to “join us” and to “make some noise.” It’s so corny that it’s actually inviting, the first of many paradoxes Callinan uses to ground the humor within the context of his pop. And while the jokes often function this way, the amount to which they dominate a song changes from track to track.
On “Live Each Day” Callinan tells the painfully heartwarming story of a man who lives each day — an ethos adopted either after a final conversation with a dying father, or after reading a fridge magnet, Callinan can’t remember. The bubbly mix of bouncy synths and guitar chord-driven verses exists somewhere between southern-rock and early 2000s top-40 pop. And it works, likely due to Callinan’s probably-insincere confidence. Throughout the track, he amusingly questions the meaning behind his trite title, “(Live each day like it’s your last)/ Go rollerblading round the Beverly Hills/ (Live each day like it’s your last)/ Shrug off the urge to systematically kill.” Sure, he’s just poking fun at stale expressions, but when such a message is sung over such decadent pop, the meaning is oddly confounding.
Just as the comedic styles range from song to song, the sonic palette frequently shifts, a testament to Callinan’s freaky grasp on the past 20 years of pop music. “Telling me This” is Callinan’s foray into hokey love ballads, followed by the bass heavy EDM-tinged “This Whole Town.” Both songs feature guest vocalists, providing Callinan distinct foils in completely separate soundscapes. Indie rock veteran Weyes Blood even makes an appearance on track “Friend of Lindy Morrison.” Yet despite these rapid changes, Callinan rarely misses a beat, his vocals effectively transforming to match the environment around him. The result is a mostly entertaining listening experience from front to back.
After putting up with every joke, style change and ridiculous lyric, Callinan unleashes the final act, the album title track “Bravado” — a song so infectious it may very well end up being the best pop song of the year. Bright synths are only outshined by Callinan’s passionate voice on the song, with energy building on each proceeding chorus. Production wise, the song is a successful mix of many of the preceding tracks’ styles. “It was all Bravado” Callinan roars throughout the track — and maybe that’s the answer to the question I posed before. Time in and time again, the album viscously makes the case that pop music doesn’t have to take itself seriously to be effecting. So why look too far into it, isn’t it all just bravado anyway?