Peregrinating from Britain to California and back again, Emmett Kelly’s the Cairo Gang presents a musical diorama of the 1960s on Goes Missing. Encompassing everything from the bubblegum pop of early Beatles and the arcane idyll of the Kinks to the surf rock of Jan and Dean and jangling psych-folk of the Byrds, Goes Missing plays more like a just-discovered collection of B-sides from some post-British Invasion band that never breached US shores.
A frequent compeer of Will (Bonnie “Prince” Billy) Oldham — the pair has collaborated on three releases dating back to 2010’s The Wonder Show of the World, their most recent being last year’s 7″ single, “We Love Our Hole”, a limited single released in tandem with Andrew Kidman’s surf documentary Spirit of Akasha — Kelly has historically traversed styles while remaining true to his Brit fetish that began with the Cairo Gang’s 2006 self-titled debut. With the folk-inspired The Corner Man from 2012, Kelly showed his Cairo Gang to be a truly solo outfit; 2013’s Tiny Rebels bore more of a band sound in its instrumentation and electro-urgency. With Goes Missing guitar pop is the soup de jour. The garage rock of “Sniper” gives way to the solar eclipse of the flower power missive “She Don’t Want You” and the thundering haze of closer “So What? Who Cares?”. A ventriloquist, Kelly’s register skips between adenoidal on the cooing “Ice Fishing” and monastic on the liturgical “Some Other Time” to a dead ringer for Paul McCartney on “Be What You Are”.
Not to be cast aside in the discussion of Goes Missing‘s sound is Kelly’s lyricism. From the outset, the latter half of the 1960s is present. Singing on “An Angel, A Wizard”, Kelly channels Robyn Hitchcock in sound and substance: “Our stomachs overfilled / The firstborn killed / Swallowed the pill”. The lyrical indictment of the dowdy “Gangsters Holding Hands” is proto-British with its deprecating rejoinders: “There’s no sense wasting time in transit / I’ve read all the books that I’m going to read / Even the papers they make me feel / This is déjà vu”. Likewise for “So What? Who Cares?” with its admonishment of “We used to count from one to three / For some reason in French”. As if a mission statement for the Cairo Gang, Kelly offers “Don’t tell me that you want to change / If you know what you want to be / Be what you are” on “Be What You Are”.
Those lines epitomize and empower Goes Missing while cracking the amber carapace of this fossilized era, exposing how indebted modern American artists like Kelly et al are of to this era of music. The adulterous “Chains” and trampoline bounce of “A Heart Like Yours” recall the melodies of James Mercer and The Shins; the limpid pontification of “The Open Sky” could easily be a tossed-off gem written by Robert Pollard.
A proper musical travelogue that revisits a half-century past, Goes Missing feels immediate in spite of its musical scope and layered harmonies. Studied and expansive, its reverb, tambourine and 12 strings induce a Technicolor dream that’s simply brill[iant].