There comes a time in any self-respecting musician’s life when they need to produce their masterpiece — the album that defines them, the body of work that really demonstrates what their soul feels like. This is what Irishman Phil Kieran has done with his new band project – Le Carousel.
A metaphor for the rotations constantly occurring in everyday life, Le Carousel finds Phil assembling some of Ireland’s finest musicians to realize his new album project. A symbol of a more innocent age, a woozy look back into childhood, it’s a blissed out album of reflective songcraft, tinged with time-lapse psychedelia and shot through with hazy fairground ephemera.
“It all pivots around an idea, a concept, it’s a diary of a part of my life,” Phil says. “Over a two-year period I decided to really make the best thing I’ve ever made — and maybe will ever make. I’ve really pushed myself every bit of the way and poured a lot of passion and honesty into this.”
Phil has previously been best known for his DJ sets and techno productions on labels such as Soma, NovaMute and Bugged Out!, but he also formed punk act Alloy Mental (on Skint Records) in the mid-noughties as a cathartic release for pent-up aggression. He followed this project up with an amazingly diverse solo electronic album, ‘Shh’, for Sven Vath’s venerated Cocoon label before starting work on Le Carousel project in 2009.
“I made a couple of trips to Donegal in the west of Ireland to disappear for a while, I was away for four weeks in total to clear my head and write original ideas and emotions,” he outlines. “I started from scratch, I originally wrote a lot of the songs with no drums, I just wanted to focus on the melody and song structure.
With various changes occurring in his personal life, Phil says that the main aim was to create music from the heart – to reflect what his true personality is. “This one track started to emerge from the mood I was in,” he says, “and it just felt really psychedelic and swirly, like it was going round and round, almost hypnotic and going into a dream-like state. It was reflecting my mood of melancholy with a twinge of sadness, but ultimately with an end feeling of hope, optimism, and a light at the end of the tunnel.
“The only way I could describe it was a funfair feeling, like being on a ride, so I thought of a carousel spinning round,” Phil continues. “I was reminiscing about my childhood and times gone by, with memories fading of what I once knew. It was like a fun day out that I just couldn’t get back because it’s gone — a mixture of happy and sad.”
The undulating, arpeggiating synth delays on the title track ‘Le Carousel’ do indeed give the feeling of hand-carved horses, slowly rising and falling on a rotating circular platform. Blissed out, looped circus noir, it’s topped off by vocals from Phil himself.
“I was developing all the music quite well, then I started to call on just about every bit of talent known here in Ireland to come and help play on the record,” he explains. “I used drummers, guitar players, bass players, cello, backing vocals — then needed to find somebody to do vocals for me. I realised if I was going to do this properly and really reflect who I am and what my story is, I have to do this all myself — so I did.”
Phil started to put the reflective words he’d created for ‘Le Carousel’ to the music, and it proved to be the catalyst for the rest of the album to flow from there:
I’m fighting here all on my own
Keep getting hit, I see the ground
Every day’s another round
And on and on... and on and on and on.
The bell rings and I stand
Still got nothing to show
Around again I gotta go
And on and on and on and on...
Unfortunately though, shortly after his first trip to his Donegal retreat, Phil had some problems in his personal life. He started feeling that life was getting on top of him, and — stressed and strung-out — he started to write more stuff down. “I started trying to say words into the mic,” he says, “and it started to work. I kept going, and by the time I finished it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’d got rid of my demons by writing stuff down and saying it out loud.”
Completing the album in the autumn of 2012, ‘Le Carousel’ is the next logical progression in the Phil Kieran story. Where his last album ‘Shh’ drew on all the sounds Phil had been influenced by over the years – from space age electro to Orbital cinematics, fizzy technoid 4/4 beats to LFO-style bleeps – this is where he digs deep into the emotional well to draw out the complex emotions that he feels.
Evoking feelings of half-remembered childhood day-trips and windswept empty beaches, fans of psyche warriors Spiritualized, shoegazing bands like Slowdive, chillwave acts like Toro Y Moi, prog rockers Pink Floyd, ‘Felt Mountain’-era Goldfrapp, minimalist Steve Reich, post-rock like Rothko, emotive electronica, Bat For Lashes, blissful Balearica and Galaxie 500 should sign up here, although anyone with a heart is going to take something away from this extraordinary piece of work.
Two influential music figures who are already sold on the album are Belfast film soundtrack don David Holmes and uber-producer Andrew Weatherall. Both have already agreed to do remixes, which has made the fan-boy side of Phil very happy. “If I could go in a time machine, I’d really impress the 16 year old me,” he laughs.
It’s already some vindication for a project that he’s poured his heart and soul into. “I think you should just be honest with yourself, making music should NOT be a career move,” Phil believes. “It should be a passion, you should follow you gut instinct, not try to fall into place or align yourself with a person just because they are successful.
“I just wanted to drown out ‘noise’ in my head — the ‘noise’ of people talking about genres and what is fashionable,” he continues. “I really truly and honestly wanted to try and strip things back so far, and just reflect who I was or am. Just be myself, in the hope that somebody else out there will relate to it and get something back from it. The ultimate aim for me is to inspire other people to do the right thing — musically, morally, creatively — just to have a better way of life in some way. And also to resonate with my inner being, and try to describe it with melody and words — is that not what music should be?” CARL LOBEN
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