KEELEY – Brave Warrior EP

The enigmatically named Keeley was formerly the vocalist with Session Motts, a band that fused bubblegum melodies with chopping guitars and frivolous lyrical concernes, creating a quirky hybrid of garage rock and disposable pop. They gained a following around their native Dublin, but it seems their time was short. After a couple of years away, Keeley returned with a new eponymously named project for 2021 and although a couple of the songs from this debut EP occasionally sound like a distant cousin to the Session Motts by way of an aloof vocal, it’s very often a different animal. There’s a strong call back to the 90s at all times, but the material itself doesn’t always have the clearest identity.

‘The Glitter and The Glue’ is the most accessible track, and by channelling the post-shoegaze/muscling in on Britpop ‘Ladykillers’ era Lush, it feels hugely nostalgic right from first listen. A set of chunky guitar chords lead the way and Keeley’s somewhat fractured approach to the main riff during the verse quickly gives the track a sharpness, while her slightly lax vocal further escalates a feeling of retro cool. Shifting into the first chorus, the sound is much fuller – closer to the poppier end of shoegaze – bringing plenty for fans of retro indie to love. By the time the second refrain rolls around, the wall of ringing guitars and hazy vocals feel like an old friend and, although somewhat perversely, the closing repeated refrain of “what a life, what a mess” seems at odds with the upbeat riff, it fits Keeley’s delivery perfectly. In under three minutes, this feels like the perfect introduction to a new chapter in Keeley’s work, but it isn’t necessarily the most representative of her new band’s sound. Keeping with the upbeat, ‘Last Words’ kicks off like a throwaway tune from ‘Wish’ era Cure but soon dives into a world of much lighter pop. Lyrically, it isn’t best served since there isn’t much more than a one line hook, but the music is quite lovely. The echoing guitar riffs that counter the vocal are certainly the tunes best feature – again, lending everything a 90s vibe that will resonate with some – but a phased lead creeping in more than suggests this has a surprising depth, and a later arrival of some shimmering dream pop leads worthy of Cranes and Cocteau Twins really help everything to gain some important extra traction in place of an obvious hook.

The EP then completely flips the mood and replaces the jangle with light electronica and programmed beats. The stripped back sounds of ‘Never Here Always There’ and ‘You Never Made It That Far’ often feel as if they’re reaching deeper into themselves for something more introspective. ‘Never Here’, in particular, sounds superb with heavily phased vocals set against a rigid mechanical beat, while heavily treated guitars creep through with a siren-like sound that evokes Mike Oldfield playing the riff from the Manics’ ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. A couple of plays are enough to fall in love with this obvious call back to the glory days of the 4AD label. It could easily be the best three minutes of dream pop since the short-lived and much missed Elastic Sleep released their one and only EP in 2017. ‘You Never Made It That Far’ is a little more of an anomaly since the beats are hugely intrusive. However, given time to adjust, there’s merit in this darker and more Massive Attack derived sound, even if the mechanics of the tune often seem at odds with a moody vocal. It’s the kind of track that takes more work on the listener’s part to appreciate, but in time, the floating electric piano sounds and sparsely arranged guitar lines more than suggest something great desperate to escape.

At the time of release, there’s not a lot that you could call new about Keeley’s sound or songs, but there’s plenty within the dream pop perfection of ‘Never Here Always There’ and the odd, slow burning electronica of ‘You Never Made It That Far’ that suggests the new project has some greatness ahead…assuming it doesn’t dissolve quite as quickly as her former band. Fans of retro sounding indie, dreampop and vaguely experimental electronica will certainly find something to enjoy here.

May 2021