KEELEY – Floating Above Everything Else

Following two excellent EP releases, Keeley released the equally strong ‘Drawn To The Flame’ mini album in 2022. The seven tracks on that disc cemented Keeley’s place within the shoegaze and dreampop scene, but also suggested their were bigger things to come.

On this full length release, Keeley – both the vocalist and the eponymously named band – explore a terrifically timeless sound. The music is often exactly as you’d expect if you’ve followed the musical progress since ‘Brave Warrior’ in ’21 – in fact, a few of the earlier tracks are recycled here to great effect – but when approaching a longer form, the work feels far more complex. In keeping with Keeley’s previous recordings, all eleven tracks on ‘Floating Above Everything Else’ are concerned with the same themes: travel and death. Inspired by the tragic murder of Inga-Maria Hauser in 1988, the album’s juxtaposition of finality and ethereal sounds creates an encompassing backdrop, and as before, Keeley’s vocals waver between inviting and other worldly. In short, it’s everything fans would hope for.

‘Seeing Everything’ begins this thoughtful musical journey with an array of fine dreampop/indie sounds leading off with some wonderful glissando guitar that takes the listener back to 1989. With the drums rumbling in slowly, evoking the sounds of a train, it also lends the music a feeling of travel – perfect for the job in hand. Branching out into the kind of blissed out melodies that would make any classic 4AD band proud, Keeley steers the tune through a Cocteau-ish landscape, whilst her heavily filtered voice ensures everything feels welcomely detached. In terms of marriage between vocal and music, this is one of the greatest Keeley tracks to date; a perfect love letter to an indie pop past that proves that classic sounds will never die. Equally lovely,‘Arrive Alive’ moves through several passages of jangle pop where a much lighter vocal floats above a pleasingly muscular bass line, and Keeley’s crisp rhythm guitar glues everything together with a furiously retro heart. The mix and filters make the finer points of the narrative harder to pick out, but the way her voice blends into the busy groove throughout recreates another absolutely classic dreampop mood, which fans of the style will adore.

As originally heard on the ‘Brave Warrior’ EP, ‘The Glitter & The Glue’ feels hugely nostalgic right from first listen. Channelling ‘Ladykillers’ era Lush, 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.

The album’s title track takes a different approach by delving into something much poppier. Acoustic guitars underscore the expected ethereal guitar sounds, and Keeley explores an equally broad vocal melody when her voice stretches farther than before. “Nothing makes much sense” she implores, sadly, whilst the rest of the band balance out an especially forlorn lyric with some uplifting sounds. It’s always been the juxtaposition of sadness and sunny sound that has always made Keeley’s best songs work, but this is perfect. Almost as if delivering an unexpected homage to The Sundays, it really raises the bar here, and sets a great precedent for the album’s second half.

Very much a highlight, ‘To A London Sunrise’ opens with a blanket of keys smothering some typical Keeley-centric guitar work. With immediate effect Keeley (the person and the eponymously named band) steer everything towards a semi mournful mood where 90s dreampop jostles with light prog rock, showing off a broader set of musical skills than ever before. The disquieting lead vocal works in a way where the melodies often seem more important than the lyric, but Keeley (the person) supplies a perfect counterpart to the wandering musical base. It takes all of a minute before this musical union asserts itself as classic Keeley, and once the keys fall away to unveil a steady beat and detached keys, things improve further still. Hints of the much missed Smoke Season colour some great pop, before the arrangement delivers an absolutely beautiful climax where droning keys underscore a deftly played guitar solo.

Another stand out cut,‘Echo Everywhere’ previously appeared on the EP of the same name, and like ‘Glitter’, it loses none of its musical power when transposed to this full length disc. Its arrangement opens with a beautiful clean guitar sound, throwing out a riff with a moderate twang and a slight reverb, falling somewhere between an old Chris Isaak tune and some modern light indie. The arrival of the rhythm section fleshes out an immediately great sound, pushing forth a classic melody that mixes slight influences from ‘Bends’ era Radiohead with a trip hop groove. It’s all quite simple, but in many ways, it’s the spaciousness and unfussy nature of the music that’s vital to making it so effective. A harmonious vocal doesn’t have much in common with previous Keeley tracks, but an almost lax delivery and obvious Irish lilt gives it a distinctive charm of its own, while the main hook is strong enough to work its magic somewhere around the third play. By the time an instrumental section emerges towards the close of the track, an increase in guitar presence offers a strong melodic heart and the trip hop-ish beats help to build up a very slight climax in a way that’s never flashy. This mightn’t seem like classic Keeley at first, but there’s definitely something about the track that’s incredibly satisfying.

Opting for something punchy, ‘Forever’s Where You Are’ takes a post-punk base and cranks a jagged guitar riff, before branching out into a loud indie jangle. It’s a great riff – loveable from the first listen – and the vocal is slightly abrasive, but delivered with an obviously Irish twang, it stands out against similar indie fare, but beyond that, there’s not always much to back it up. The title isn’t just repeated incessantly for a chorus hook, it also fills every alternate line of each verse, hammering a point home with a lack of subtlety. Granted, the inspiration for the lyrics is a serious one, and sometimes a point needs to be made with a very direct approach, but the track leaves a strong feeling that Keeley is capable of so much better, melodically speaking. Luckily, the balance is redressed very quickly. Released as a digital single ahead of the album, ‘Totally Entranced’ isn’t vastly different from this album’s best sounds, but by taking a slower tempo, it allows a world of keys to rise up against a stately bassline. Keeley takes a more leisurely approach to a vocal and adopts more of a sullen tone that’s well suited to the gentle waltzing balladry that’s slowly unravelling. The track really misses some of the shimmering guitar lines the band have made their trademark, but a few listens uncovers a mature work that gives this album even more depth.

Befitting the concept of death that runs through the album, 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’. Keeley’s fans will certainly 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’, meanwhile, is a little more of an anomale in that the beats are hugely intrusive. However, given time to adjust, there’s plenty of merit in this darker 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 that’s desperate to escape.

In a final change of mood, ‘Shine A Light’ stretches a very 60s-through-a-90s-filtered sound across nine minutes when Keeley and her cohorts take a Verve-esque vocal melody and apply it to a slow burning and beautiful riff where the sounds of Chris Isaak intrude into a 4AD landscape. The melody never rushes; instead it allows a guitar riff to slowly rise and fall above a lovely melodic drone, until a few distortion pedals make everything bigger, and a disjointed and slightly bluesy lead break cries with the kind of aching and questioning sounds such a tune deserves. With extra layers presenting more of a shoegaze drone from the mid-point, the listener is further sucked into an otherworldly landscape, before everything falls away for a last verse where some particularly pointed and sad lyrics leave everything on a necessarily downbeat note. It’s the antithesis of something like ‘The Glitter & The Glue’, but at the same time, a perfect closer. It not only gives this suite an epic finish, but strongly suggests Keeley’s musical saga is far from over. [In fact, it isn’t quite the final word for ‘Floating Above Everything Else’ – there’s a hidden surprise…but it should remain exactly that…]

Keeley’s musical talents worked excellently on the short form EPs, and it comes as a relief that, when stretched across a vinyl friendly 45 minutes, their 90s-centric sounds never weaken or become too repetitive. ‘Floating Above Everything Else’ is the kind of release that’s designed to remind you that retro dream pop sounds are neither niche or dead. There’s something here for a broad spectrum of indie fans to fall in love with over time, suggesting that, for Keeley, a musical future continues to look very bright indeed.

May 2023