David Kilgour's songs are simple -- simpler, even, than the songs he writes with The Clean, if that's possible. By simple, I don't mean mindless, repetitive or cloying, but obvious
, in the sense that once you've heard his music, you want to kick yourself for not thinking of it first. He's into melodies that grab you right away, garlanded with serviceable psychedelic filigree; you'll be able to hum along with most of them before you've heard them all the way through.
This is Kilgour's fourth solo album, so he has no trouble getting down to business. While you'll hear a few tracks that recall The Clean's driving pop sound -- most notably "All the Rest", which lacks only the requisite keyboard drone to complete the Clean equation -- the predominant mood here is whimsical and introspective. "Sept. 9B" and "Backwards Forwards", which bookend the album, hint at the dense, reverb-soaked, noodly compositions of Roy Montgomery, albeit with a cheerier and more pastoral bent and a broader sonic palette. The latter has far more of a pop song structure and rhythm, with an overt nod to the sort of wide-open western themes that informed everything from surf rock to contemporary post-rock stuff like Bark Psychosis and Godspeed You Black Emperor. "Time to Run", a short, multilayered mix of trebly melody and heavily reverbed chords, is actually more closely allied to "Sept. 9B"'s moody vibe.
You'll probably get more pleasure from the vocal tracks. "Slippery Slide", for instance, is an upbeat concoction of piano and jangly, layered guitar, decorated by some lovely strumming. If there's not a twelve-string guitar in the mix somewhere, perhaps it's a mandolin; regardless, the tune has a lovely, joyful shimmer that'll make you smile. If "Slippery Slide" seems a little threadbare, skip ahead to "I Lost My Train" and "Today is Gonna Be Mine", in which the poppy jangle is more extensively orchestrated. "I Lost My Train" suggests The Church at their most upbeat, or Crowded House at their least showy; there's a wistful, minor-key sadness nestled in the instrumental refrain, functioning as a cautionary footnote to the song's bouncy, heavily-layered primary thrust. "Today is Gonna Be Mine" is more straightforward Britpop, complete with horns -- the titular chorus is pure Beatles. Folkier pieces, such as "The Perfect Watch" and "Wooden Shed", fill out the album, stripping away some of the decorative pop elements without compromising their complexity. "Instra 2 Reprise" takes Kilgour's explorations a little further, fleshing out his squelchy guitar noodling with a string arrangement by The Verlaines' Graeme Downes.
While my inclination is to recommend A Feather in the Engine to everyone without reservation, the disc is actually best suited to more advanced listeners -- that is, those of you for whom sing-along pop songs are not a prerequisite for enjoying an album. Kilgour's compositions are certainly immediate and hummable, but they're very different animals than the three chord/three minute nuggets that populate the alt-rock radio airwaves. There are a few extremely accessible pieces here -- "Today is Gonna Be Mine", in particular, should score with all but the staunchest Top 40 fans -- but Kilgour's music will play best to listeners who have experienced the broader canvases of five and seven-minute songs, and can place his details in an appropriate context. His music may be simple, but his scope remains broad.