Joe McKee : Burning Boy
The first solo album from Snowman’s Joe McKee represents a stark contrast to his former band’s sound, though it shares the ambience and sparseness that crept into the band’s swan song, Absence. The biggest change is McKee’s warm, crooning vocal, a far cry from the rabid shriek of his Snowman vocals. Where he once chimed in as one part of the chaotic ensemble, his voice is now front and centre, with the minimal instrumentation following his cue.
“Am I losing touch with reality or am I waking up from some lucid dream?” asks McKee on the introductory track, Lunar Sea, and it’s the first of a series of questions posed throughout this song. It’s the work of someone disbanded and uncertain of the future, but submitted themselves to something new and unknown. Oscillating scales courtesy of a gorgeous string section surge in as McKee finally lets himself be pulled into the ‘lunar sea’ (lunacy) to the sound of canned laughter.
Nothing captures the feeling of returning to your home town (in McKee’s case, Perth) after a few years in another city (London) quite like the album’s title track. That weird sense that everything has subtly changed, but you haven’t had experience of the specific changes is a hard feeling to place, yet alone write a song about. Burning Boy successfully conjures up those conflicting feelings of nostalgia and foreboding in a place that should be familiar but is oddly unfamiliar. “Everyone has disappeared/Where have you gone?” laments McKee, while haunting whispers from the past reverberate around him, reminiscent of the paranoid sound effects used in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.
With the instrumentation spare and occasionally adorned with strings, the various samples and additional vocals play an important role in setting up an atmosphere or introducing an unsettling, otherworldly element. Aside from the laughter and chattering voices of a half-remembered past in the first two songs, there are intermittent bursts of transistor radio in Darling Hills, Goldfrapp-like wails wafting through the pretty An Open Mine and soft, dreamy backing vocals lulling the listener into Golden Guilt.
Some songs, particularly Flightless Bird and the uptempo second half of The Garden, recall the baroque balladry of Augie March, though McKee favours scene-setting and mood-building over elaborate storytelling. Later in the album, a few waves are made on the lucid sea, with thumping piano and percussion adding a menacing edge to A Double Life and a more passionate vocal delivered for the atypical Blue Valeria. It concludes a collection that requires more patience than McKee’s past work, but it’s ultimately more rewarding.
BY CHRIS GIRDLER
Best Track: Burning Boy
If You Like These, You’ll Like This: Scott 3 SCOTT WALKER, Strange Tourist GARETH LIDDIARD
In A Word: Lucid