Brighton’s Rose Keeler-Schäffeler has (literally) made a name for herself, posting her lo-fi bedroom recordings on the internet.
As her chosen moniker, Keel Her, perhaps hints, the abrasive nature of her sound isn’t likely to be met with universal plaudits. Taking the same name for its title, this debut album collects a selection of her songs and provides a whirlwind tour of her undoubted creativity. With her intentional lack of production polish, however, it treads a treacherous path, veering very close to messy territory.
It gets off to a perky start, with ‘Go’ being one of the jauntier opening tracks heard so far this year. The tune is about as threadbare as they come – this album generally isn’t one for those who don’t dig a bit of repetition in their music – but with its well-balanced mix of crisp and fuzzy guitars, it’s plenty of fun.
This accessible sound is immediately challenged by the muddier mix on the following songs, with the vocals regularly disappearing to near obscurity under waves of thrashing guitars and synthesisers. Thankfully (although they’re not likely to be to everybody’s taste) neatly-constructed tunes are evident throughout, with plentiful hooks to be heard, even if a little work might be required to pick them up.
The album really hits its stride when it casts its niceties aside, clearing the way for the defeatist droning of track 7, ‘(I Hate It) When You Look At Me’. Considerably lengthier than the largely short and punchy tunes elsewhere on the album, the sludgy, layered and heavy sound of this track plods along for four or so minutes, drawing the listener through a haze of distorted guitars and lackadaisical drumming – as the title suggests, this isn’t intended to sound at all happy.
The lyrics that make it through the din emphasise this point: “I feel so tired when you look at me / I know I’m not so pretty”; “I feel so sad when I think of you”; “We are so ugly”.
Mood music matching the most foul of moods
It’s heady stuff, mood music matching the most foul of moods. But sometimes, isn’t that just the thing? There’s a comfort in this. This song is the musical equivalent of having a moan to the best possible company when down in the dumps. The pal that isn’t going to offer any unwanted answers, say everything’s going to be OK when you’re happy convincing yourself it won’t. It’s the response to complaints that just says “yeah… that’s shit.” “x is rubbish.” “I hate x,” where x = any and every source of a given misery. Sometimes, that’s the most comforting thing to hear.
The song hints towards an uplifting ending when a synthetic beat cross-fades over the racket, lifting the tempo, pointing the way to some brighter tomorrow. Or, at any rate, the transition to the anger of ‘Don’t Look At Me’. Rose is sounding positively chipper, almost sweet, as she coos just about the most pleasantly authoritative threats ever committed to record. “Baby, when I count to four / I’m gonna throw you out the door / and laugh in your face.”
In amongst the fairly twee, poppy construction of the song, there’s a mawkishly brutal humour to it.
This kind of humour crops up a lot on the record, with the repeated line on ‘Women Lost In Thought’, “Baby’s gonna leave me / Why, why, why, why? What did I do?” sounding more like “wah, wah, wah, wah” and “blah, blah, blah, blah” with every pass. At least, it sounds that way to the amusement of this listener. Part of the appeal of lo-fi music, in my book, is that the blurs around the recordings offer up mysterious gaps and uncertainties, open to interpretation, in a similar manner to minimalist or Modernist art.
A highlight of the album comes in the dreamy shoegaze form of ‘I’d Be Your Slave’ – remixed with added contributions from home recording bigwig, R. Stevie Moore. His added bass provides a rhythmic drive, allowing a pained guitar and a blissed-out, all-meaning-lost vocal to lose themselves in the song’s starry haze.
The album’s sound isn’t all intense guitars – ‘Overtime’ and the wonderfully titled ‘Only Geeks Come Bearing GIFs’ are synthesizer-driven ditties, but there are no compromises to the low-fidelity ethos.
The sound that’s conjured up seems a little lost in time, with a haunting air of nostalgia, reminding this listener of the creepily catchy music that used to plug the gaps between the Schools programmes on Channel 4 in the early ‘90s – wonky VCR tracking control and distortion from my primary school’s over-worked old TV and everything. There’s something magical and slightly disturbing in that.
And if I’ve lost you there, that perhaps emulates part of the mystifying nature of this bemusing, but thoroughly interesting record. There’s a lot of scuzzy, rough-round-the-edges, slacker-like pop gold to be found on the 18 tracks here, but this is a treasure hunt that isn’t suitable for every listener.
For those who enjoy a challenge, this record offers up healthy rewards and suggests Keel Her has a lot to offer the world, though this may not yet be the finished product.Keel Her Bandcamp Page