Kai Fish, ‘Life In Monochrome’ – First Listen

Sometimes, you just write things, and you’re not even sure what’s coming out. Indeed, you’ll often find me doing just that right here on NME.COM, (*rattles troll-feeding bucket*). You can’t help but think it must have been a similar experience for Mystery Jets bassist Kai Fish, who wrote the lyrics for the songs that would become his debut solo album in the course of a single train journey last August. Aren’t you meant to have your whole life to write your debut album?

Anyway, for all the fervent speed of its creation there was a lot to cram in to this record; the ending of a six-year relationship, the beginning of a new one that led to marriage after three months. Is it the last train to swoonsville, or leaves on the line? Let’s go ahead and find out…
Kai Fish Album

‘Erasing The Young’
The album begins with a mournful strum and a crackled, reverby nostalgia-mist through which Kai’s mournful tones drift as from an old radio. The first words spoken are the simple, Spiritualized-esque lines “I’m close to tears most of the time recently/Since I discovered that I didn’t have the heart”. And we’re gone. Did someone say break-up album? Turn it up, lock the door and get the gin out. Strings and subtle piano buoy the song up gently until it kicks in with a repetition of that first line with the alteration “…was blinded from the start”; with that realization, the sonic atmosphere clears and drums and life return. This being one of Mystery Jets though, rather than just leave it there, we close with a slightly proggy wig-out. Mind you, the dumpster of romance is all about proggy wigouts in my experience.

‘Dig Your Own Well’
If fuzzy-felt whimsy merchants like Super Furry Animals had bleak and heartfelt moments, they’d start off like this sadtown unicorn right here. This world-weary, slightly fuzzy shuffle is kind of lovely in a watching-your-life-whirl-down-the-plughole kind of way. By the end of it, it’s become a big swayalong comfort blanket of a thing that a younger, weirder Elbow would doff their cap to.

‘Secret Garden’
A little hymn to self-reliance, with bar-room stabs of piano and still-drowsy drums harbouring mournful little peals of electric guitar: “You can breathe, you can find all that you need / Under your skin.” – It’s lovely, Gorillaz-does-Beatles-y with a fluid guitar line and sweet female backing vocals courtesy, we’re told, of singer Sophie-Rose Harper. During the big swirling build of an ending, psychedelic kitchen sinks and “lalalas” and all sorts suddenly start appearing out of the cupboards.

‘Windows In Mirrors’
This has an odd, lurching-drunk sort of time-signature and a synth line like an abandoned digital watch with ominously circling guitar arpeggios. “I don’t believe in anything… my hands are so shaky, I can’t hold the keys to sleep” whimpers Kai, before it becomes a thing of climactic, crashing, keybpard-crushing climax. Yes, the mood has swung back down a bit, now you mention it.

Kai Fish

‘Real Life’
There’s a Metronomy-ish sort of low-rent razzle-dazzle to this, a bedsit pop feel, with a simple drum machine beat and girly-twee French vocals from Elephant actress Lisa Wisznia (“My baby’s so clumsy… always breaking my brassiere/Wakes me up with cigarettes and beer”).

‘Cobalt Cheeks’
You’ll have heard this merciless heartbreaker already, just Kai’s grief-dampened voice, reverb and gently twanged guitar like the drip-drip of heart’s blood before a comforting strum comes in to pat downcast heads. It’s all about finding the key to your own door, behind which lies… oh. “An empty room with nothing but a dusty draught/And a dying child, eyes frozen over”. This kind of reminds NME of that brilliant Dylan Moran sketch about how you should never open the door to your own potential because all that you’ll find there is a small grey incontinent cat on a metal bed frame with no mattress, but not in a way that makes us want to laugh. Anyway, just when you’re about to start weighting your pockets with stones, a massive snarl of distorted, storming guitar crashes in as Kai cries to this half-dead inner child “Here is a home/I shut you out oh so long ago”. You don’t think it can go any higher, but about two minutes in, there’s another crashing climax, all 40-foot waves of tears with troughs of bottomless despair in between. It’s post-rocky in its intensity, like something by The Twilight Sad in a way, but voiced by a ‘Tender’-era Damon Albarn rather than an overwrought Scot (I can say that because I am one).

‘Hiroshima Of The Heart’
Not being funny, but this is *still* too soon. You had a breakup, you didn’t lose your whole family and city in white-hot nuclear agony. Anyway. ill-advised title similes aside, that jaunty tickled piano adds again a very Gorillaz tone to this, with enchanting harmonized and chorused vocals and a haunted dancehall kind of feel. Plus, the added non-Gorillaz bonuses of no thinner-than-paper cartoon pretext and an emotional engagement level somewhere above ’empty sandwich carton’.

Kai Fish

‘Homerton Baby’
Whoof! Mama… A T-Rex riff, a big Jim Jones Revue style piano-key sweep and a bluesy raunch worthy of Jon Spencer. “Oh baby, she’s got the devil’s eyes”. This is the rebound sex one then, yes? Perhaps we’re over-analysing this. Anyway, it certainly does a fun, Grinderman-raunchy bar room blues version of picking up the mood. Like the moment where you peel yourself off the floor, put the gin back in the cupboard, cut yourself a new fringe and call your single mates.

‘Solar Plexus Of The World’
Remarkably, there actually is a solar plexus of the world. In the body, it’s supposed to be the seat of the emotions in ayurvedic tradition. Geographically, the world’s solar plexus chakra ‘is supposed to be Uluru [Ayer’s Rock if you’re old school/a racist] in Australia. This, apparently, is where we find Kai, perhaps awaiting a punch in the gut from fate. This is all lovelorn and pacing the streets, haunted by pining strings before ending in a big melodramatic Nick Cave piano panic.

‘My Anima’
The album’s biggest, most redemptive love song starts off brooding and bass-led before soaring into a massive, unashamed, soaring chorus with big reverby piano and sharp drums that has us thinking of solo Richard Ashcroft (in a good way, not ‘Sweet Brother Malcolm’ or anything). Kai’s falsetto refrain of “love love love” closes the song in a big ol’ obsessed swirl. An anima, if you were wondering, is the word used by psychologist Carl Jung to define a man’s inner feminine personality traits. Ladies, you have an animus instead. Now, go and see if you can find them, and report back.

‘Crystal Curtains’
Here’s an odd line for the big riding-off-into-the-sunset closer: “There’s nothing left to live for now there’s you.” But then, everyone’s had those moments where you’re like “why would I bother getting out of bed or eating or paying the rent or any of that TRIVIAL NONSENSE when I could just lie here and stare at yooooooouuu” moments, and this song is one of those. “I’m scared that this is just too good to be true” he continues, and as the big cooing chorus of “take me through the crystal curtains tonight” swells up, it’s a wee bit like being sat in the studio with two people who are staring into each others’ eyes that little teeny bit too intently, and you maybe want to rustle your newspaper or cough or something just so as they know you’re still there, but, still, it’s very romantic. And nice to end on a shag.

Verdict
“I hope that some of the magic that came in the process of creating this record, finds a way of permeating your being” says Kai on his website. So far it has, and rather than ‘Life In Monochrome’ what we have here is heartbreak in every hue, that climbs from its initial sombre mood into one of hope and joy, via that rare alchemical art of spinning life’s dross into spun-gold song. So yeah, we like it I s’pose.