2013 presents us with the year of the self taught artist. New Zealand by London’s Sarah Kelleher’s new solo project Misfit Mod reminds us that in the face of corporate manufactured, algorithm based music that one can create Islands & Islands of creative, autonomous personal retreats.
The opener lead single “Sugar C” has a slow and sparse keyboard turn up where Kelleher sets the tone of escape with her number one sugarman, “Sugar Cane” asking, “can you tell me do you know the way from this town?” The levels of urgency are upheld through the sparse production that has Sarah’s voice over dubbed, floating above the mix or flying low beneath the vocal production. The effect has the listener paying attention to the slightest nuance of sound, like the electronic slow pitched smoke gasp and foreboding self-sang choir-chorus of celestial entities that lines the vinyl upholstery of “Cars”. Kelleher keeps the pensive great escape in motion, where the tension refuses to sit still or comfortable with sparse and slowed Houston hip-hop beats put to tarot card controlled loops. The moments, seconds and minutes and wants are counted off as the central breakaway plan remains, “Got to make a move from the backseat of this car, got to make a move from this back seat, got to make a move so far.”
Like a spring morning in London’s Hackney, “Queen Love Zero” presents some of the album’s densest production yet. In series of loops that one could lose themselves in, Sarah plays around with a menagerie of her own vocals and lyrical word play of “zero to hero/hero to zero” that the most critical lyric almost gets lost in the mix with the low frequency vocal sample of, “just because you said you know what it’s like it doesn’t mean you know what it’s like”. If the world of Islands & Islands is heard and understand as its own self made sonic landmass surrounded by water; “Tribes” is a brief vignette ritual of restrained keys and the smoke signals of Sarah’s voice.
One of the album’s greatest moments is the electro pop clearing of “Valleys” that stretches for miles. The keys operate on the brightest analog electrics that thrives on the natural honesty of Kelleher’s heart to heart lyrical discourses and is one of the most brilliant 80s revivalist tracks on accord that it acts unconscious of analogous constraints on account of the sentimental core. The escapism is embellished in hedonistic terms on “Unreal” with Sarah’s chorus of “so let’s get higher, higher, let’s get higher, let’s get higher and see”. To throw of expectations and steering from formulaic consistencies, “First Aid” is keyboard scanning and seeking drone with an arrangement that burns like flashlight batteries used in the blanket tent tape recording effects. While cool breathing echo effects encircle the album like Nag Champa incense smoke, “Ghost Me” is built of panning, rising breaths, abstracts electric beat distortions that gives you the rare Kelleher rap couplet; “we went away for just a while in a runaway pact”.
Returning for a moment to our earlier discussion of 80s affectation and affinities assortments; “Pool House” works on fuzzy, swimming synthesizers with a programming and arrangement that ignites She’s So Unusual comparisons where “Time After Time” is treated like a sub-genre excavation project. After the night swim hints of “I’ll be back again” in the “Pool House”; “Cars II” brings a reprise that elaborates on the former while reflecting further on the Islands explored with, “7, 9, 7, 9, 8, 9, 10, valleys and oceans and paradise…” In some ways “Free City” can be heard as an electric synth bass seesaw extension of “Sugar C”, where the yearning for a place free of the drudgeries of lifelong clerical work is sung out in gender bending, “I’m a free man, free man about you”.
Islands & Islands presents the great escape into the DIY synth pop worlds of possibility. Like Misfit Mod’s often cited contemporaries of Grimes, Purity Ring, Zola Jesus, and so on, the electronic medium provides a way to express feeling across the electronic conventions in the hopes that the analog heat will melt the ice and cold of discontents, misgivings and convey complications that acoustic cannot provide. While the current pop climate is rich with the matriarchal order of dark mood ice princesses, Sarah’s Misfit Mod project operates on a wanderlust for a holiday-in-the sun locale that may only exist perhaps in Islands & Islands’s 32 minutes of personal vacation hot spot to melt the snow and storms of a dissatisfied winter.