Usually if an artist tries to write music that spans several genres, it tends to happen over the course of several years, and numerous albums. More often than not, it’s a case of a musician finding a style that works for them, writing a record and then going back to write another, and another, and then another. Until they run out of ideas. And then, very often, doing it all once more after all the ideas are long gone. This is not, however, the case for Kirin J Callinan. With Embracism, the Australian singer manages to incorporate multiple, disparate genres and influences, far many more than you’d expect to find on a debut LP.
While this makes for a thoroughly strange, surprising listen, its greatest success is that the several signature elements across its ten songs keep it sounding, for the most part, like a coherent, complete album. The opening and closing numbers – ‘Halo’ and ‘Love Delay’ – demonstrate Callinan’s boundless capacity for all things bizarre, with disarming discordant tones and flexing a much heavier sound than is found at any other point on the record. ‘Landslide’ for example employs much more traditional instrumentation, Callinan’s deep vocals accompanied by piano, drums and guitar. The incredibly emotive ‘Chardonnay Sean’ tells a story in the same manner as Perfume Genius, however, while Perfume Genius’ ‘Mr. Petersen’ told the story of a teacher seducing a young boy through quiet and introspection, ‘Chardonnay Sean’ couples lyrics like “I don’t see your mum anymore, she thinks I was the one, I’ll visit your grave”, with brash guitars and discordance, creating a wonderful contrast between the pace of the music and the melancholy of the lyrics.
Despite the disparity in influences, the bizarre approach to song structure and the slightly atonal nature of Callinan’s vocals tie the songs together, making Embracism feel like a complete work , while also retaining the concept of an artist exploring a dizzying array of genres and ideas. The title track introduces yet another influence, with an electro feel that’s absent from many of its companions. Over the discordant electronic noise is a brutal vocal, veering at times towards a style that borders on a heavy metal-esque scream. Following on from this, ‘Victoria M’ takes another left turn with grand chords that wouldn’t feel out of place at a stadium rock show, contrasting wildly with ‘Embracism’. There’s still an inescapable sense of Callinan’s personality throughout the song, even though on the face of, it seems like it could be a totally different artist – its climax finds him desperately repeating the name “Victoria”, and there’s a way he loses control of his vocals that retains elements of the darker moments of the record.
Although at times Embracism feels like a meandering listen or musical stream of consciousness, Callinan’s songwriting skills have allowed him to find cohesion throughout its ten songs, a consistency that a less engaging personality certainly wouldn’t have struck upon.
- Rachel Bolland