Words: F.J. Dominguez Pennock
Chances are if you’re reading this review, you already know Elizabeth Joan Kelly’s music-either through her previous work, the award winning and most excellent full length album Music For The DMV, or her recent visual work. For her latest full length release, “Farewell, Doom Planet!” the New Orleans based electronic music composer returns with an ethereal collection of songs framed around a familiar compositional ethos, but this time around, with an additional no holds barred urgency regarding the environmental state of our planet. And while most releases centered around dystopian futures usually only prophesize about possible catastrophic possibilities, Kelly’s music and imagery on “Farewell, Doom Planet!” stand out because it places the listener directly in an environmentally tortured future that’s already here.
The album’s first track, “Harm”, immediately gets things started and drops the listener deep inside the album’s tortured present-future theme. Kelly croons in a soulful, resigned voice, “It wasn’t a dream, the bright sun extinguished. Morning never came, glaciers melted through our fingers” that manages to be both fatalistic and compassionate, with a vocal intonation reminiscent of Cat Power’s vocal performance on her own standout 2012 album release, “Sun”.
In the next track, “Baleen Executioner”, Kelly employs the first of several conceptual parables. The album’s central theme grows exponentially complex by using the concept of space as an ocean. Here, Kelly sings, “We ruled the deep until you denatured all that we exalt, forsaking us for planets still unspoiled”, highlighting that perhaps, it is in our true nature to destroy and not conserve. It certainly makes the listener contemplate whether perhaps, if we do indeed reach a point devoid of any resources on this planet, and if we do somehow manage to survive and escape out of this catastrophe, are we doomed to start the same process of destruction somewhere else all over again? Heady stuff already for being just the second track, however, Kelly builds enough rhythmic counterpoints and glitchy electronic arrangements to make pondering this philosophical conundrum effortlessly palatable to do so.
Although the next track, “Unusual Capsule” is a track onto itself, it feels highly connected to the previous track. It is the sonic release to the tension Kelly just suspended the listener within. This sonic release is then followed by the track “Trinity Quadra Cantata”, a fantastic mix of ethereal, dream like vocal intonations over understated electronic beats and an acoustic percussion arrangement. Kelly’s Classical compositional background shines here and warms the album’s overall ambience, not unlike a faint ray of light managing to pierce through a massive barrier of clouds perpetually obscuring the sky above.
The next track, “Whaliens”, is another album standout. However, this piece isn’t quite ready to let the listener’s attention drift from its current blissful state. It is a full blown, beatless, ambient piece and another track that continues the use of parables and the concept of space as an ocean, albeit this time, it lets the listener do all the contemplative work while Kelly provides the breathing room to do so.
The next track, “Departure”, arrives like a Solar flare. It bursts the listener away from the gentle ambience with a mixture of arpeggiated synths and cosmic synth pad arrangements. It is a love song but not in a conventional sense. Instead, it explores the dynamic of relationships within the framework of an environmentally catastrophic existence, where the impracticalities of romance are enhanced under the politics of survival. It is the kind of dialogue you’d imagine would happen between androids within The Blade Runner universe. The lyrics are both direct and ambiguous, leaving for a great deal of personal interpretation and an endless number of permutations you could possibly reach a conclusion about this subject.
Speaking of The Blade Runner universe, the next few tracks feel right at home within the compositional style of Vangelis-lush keyboard strokes, ethereal background vocals gently navigating in the background, and plenty of intricate sonic tapestry to keep the listener submerged in the present-future dialogue of the album’s theme. It is a futuristic sonic side journey and a welcomed one considering what follows next.
The album’s penultimate track, “Cosmonaut Chorus”, breaks the spell of the previous three compositions and elevates the album into an otherworldly, understated conceptual crescendo. It is a wordless statement, reminiscing of the opening track, in both its uneasiness and compassion. Here Kelly brings to light the realization and perhaps even the resignation that indeed, we might be beings of destruction and not conservation, and that only by embracing this reality can we perhaps begin to head towards a deeper resolution of what it means to be human.
Then we reach the album’s final track “Beau Travail”. It is an instrumental epilogue that also mirror’s the album’s opening statement with its sound coda. However, it is a much lengthier affair and this use of length is very much needed as this track searches for thematic resolution to close out the album. It certainly has the feel of many classic Sci-Fi films, where at the end of so much catastrophe, there is only one option for resolution. For Kelly’s tale, it is to forge ahead somehow. Despite the nightmare Kelly places us in the beginning of the album, at its end, she let us contemplate that perhaps what matters most is what we do with our imperfections. For her, there might be a way to coexist with them, and in finding how, also lies a possible key to chart a better course for our species.