Out from the veil of their stint backing the sparseness and pomp of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the Emmett Kelly-lead Cairo Gang are finally in position to stake some kind of claim amidst a bedlam of rock ‘n’ roll groups who aren’t positive of what they’d like to sound like. Kelly knows exactly what he’d like the Cairo Gang to sound like—it’s just that the scope varies from song to song on Goes Missing. And through these sonic crevices we find some of the most addictive pop tunes to rear their maws since pretty much everything Robert Pollard has ever touched.
If the record sounds nomadic, there’s good reason for it: Recorded in various locations, Kelly’s pointed pop opuses slide through varying patinas, each one sounding as lost in the magic of its own raw melodies as the last. The first indication of the majesty of Goes Missing is within the first 10 seconds of the terribly catchy Byrds-inspired rocker “Be What You Are,” a homerun of a guitar-rock tune that recalls the best moments of Peter Buck, Young Fresh Fellows, and countless other college rock bands who reigned in the underground ‘80s. The song’s nucleus bleeds the poetic coming-to-terms of letting go with Kelly singing “I want to find myself in stranger places/I want to be the only one around that don’t belong here,” expanding the ambling of the album’s wanderlust.
On Goes Missing, mining aural arsenals from yesteryear is rarely swathed underneath atmospherics, save for “Sniper,” a driving, electronic-drum-driven minor-chord number that recalls Psychocandy-era goth-pop. Through even these slightly less-engaging tunes, the strength of Kelly’s commitment to his muses is evident. There’s experimentation here, however thoroughly tested, and the result is as electrifying as tying a key off to a kite string in a storm.
Ballads reign in heavy rotation, with thick guitars and tasteful reverb on magnetic cuts like “She Don’t Want You,” and “Chains” begs to be played ad infinitum in the lonely room of a teenager grieving the rejection of a significant other. Distant-sounding guitars weave in and out of each other over a heart-wrenching Kelly melody, as he croons “Should we ever meet, please make it discrete/should somebody follow you on your way to me/It’d be smart to devise a quick way out.”
The album’s first single, “Ice Fishing,” highlights a b-side chock full of more wide-ranging pop rock gems with loads of heavily layered guitars and an abundance of borrowed melodies somehow made new by Kelly’s unabashed homage. “Ice Fishing” seems to literally be a short tale about a man ice fishing. It’s charming. The whole album is charming. The pop dregs it siphons have had recent conjurers—White Fence’s Tim Presley, The Fresh and Onlys’ Tim Cohen to name a few. What Kelly has summoned is a shot of the good stuff from the wellspring of material everyone has to work with, and in the process he’s produced one of the best albums of 2015.