Monday 21 October 2019

Kirsty McGee & The Hobopop Collective –The Deafening Sound of Stars

Kirsty McGee writes songs you seem to have heard before. You can often guess how the melody is going to land. She can be coolly formal, constructing songs that sound like forgotten pages from the Great American Songbook. This skill could become mechanical, but for the profound emotion Kirsty invests in these strangely familiar new-minted songs. 

She can be tender, passionate, gay and mordant by turn. You can tap your toe to the jaunty C&W opener, ‘Moving On’, and endorse its message of optimism, but don't be misled. Kirsty thrives on life’s ironies and paradoxes, but is motivated most by its possibilities. She is drawn to multitudinous America with its hopeful dreams and edgy burlesque, but are these just means of escape by a discontented provincial English lass? This transcendental urge aligns her spiritually, if not musically, to P.J. Harvey.

The Deafening Sound of Stars is an embarrassment of riches, with more lyrical depth than most. Try… “Someone said enchantment is a human right / Pretty soon you’re gonna get your fill” (‘Scorpion in a Mason Jar’). And what’s more she does it with jazz, or at least she has the good sense to surround herself with players who can do it with jazz. 

Each will have his or her favourites. Here are some of mine: ‘Copenhagen’, as bare and intimate as the scene it commemorates; ‘Second Tuesday’, a song bruised by grace; ‘Greedy Little Things’, which dismisses all those irksome annoyances of modern life with a shrug couched as a lullaby; ‘I Take You In My Arms’ is a wry acknowledgement of a failure of resistance whilst remaining undeceived (she will never reach a mass audience if she is this deflating about romance). The spare, economical production – with nicely judged embellishments like Nick Walters’ trumpet on the latter, or Clive Mellor’s harmonica on ‘Moving On’, or the collective ethereal tinkling of ‘The Deafening Sound of Stars’ (I suspect her musical saw is somewhere in the mix) – perfectly matches the intimacy of her aesthetic. 

The title track finally breaks open new channels of feeling and communication. This is the one where Kirsty's voyage of mind finds an answering trance-like response in the listener. That is, in any listener prepared to listen. Or is Kirsty being saved for a future time, when all creatures are this honest, sensitive and intelligent? 

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