Steven Dayvid McKellar, founder, singer and songwriter of South African indie rock stalwarts Civil Twilight, presents his solo album debut – Ethio.
An album that is meant to be listened to with headphones during a long train journey. It soothes and eases the listener, which is ironic with the albums content. You feel as if the album is made for you which demonstrates Stevens power as a song crafter.
Ethio is a laid back sparse electronic affair that’s heavy on the lyrical content. Written as a conscious reflection on the state of the world. In the winter of 2019, McKellar and his wife had just touched down at JFK after a half year in Paris. From an ocean away, it had been easy to respond to American politics with chuckles of disbelief. It was concerning, but in the abstract. Then, as if piercing some portal, the artist, who is South African, says he “stood in the passport line at JFK and observed with new eyes the America I was returning to.” It wasn’t pretty.
Opener Don’t ask me why sets the album out sonically. The steady percussion builds throughout the track with Steven commenting on our ability to ruin things and move on, “we’ll poison the well and leave again”
Keep it safe feels more upbeat and angry “Your kingdom for their piss and cum. You’ll pay the price, but it’s not enough, it’s never enough.” coupled with electronic stabs and despondent chorus. This sets the musical landscape for the full album.
Stand out tracks for me Modern Boy where his Thom Yorke angelic voice really shines. The Promise is a standout track for me. It has some lovely vocals that soar beautiful though don’t entirely satisfy. The lyrics are possibly his best capturing the current zeitgeist. “Swallowed all my pills. Tried to ignore those credit card bills. Made myself a dinner in the microwave.” Asleep at the wheel
Steven is a man capable of turning his hand to anything creative, he is not only the painter behind the album artwork, but also wrote, recorded and performed Ethio. These limitations musically and singular input does prevent the album from going anywhere or bringing any surprises. But that may be missing the point. The albums is one complete piece and is to be absorbed as a whole. The worlds problems can’t be summed up in one song can they?
All together the album is wonderfully crafted if somewhat forgettable with the first few spins. The gems are well hidden but worth the effort when you give it your full attention. Take the time out of your day to sit headphones on and take note.
Ethio is released April 10th. Go buy the record, here: https://stevendayvidmckellar.bandcamp.com/album/ethio