All India Radio – A Low High

AllIndiaRadioALowHigh

All India Radio - A Low High

Australian Martin Kennedy formed All India Radio in 2000, releasing several albums including an ARIA-nominated self-titled album in 2003, and has contributed compositions to film and TV soundtracks like director Michael Moore’s Sicko and the TV series One Tree Hill. 

A Low High is the last chapter in a musical trilogy that Martin started with All India Radio and continued on 2006’s Echo Other, but previous knowledge of his work is not needed to fully enjoy the contemplative, dreamy to down-tempo atmosphere of electronics, guitars, and sound samples that permeate this album.  Martin is joined by Graham Lee of The Triffids on pedal steel guitar, Jen Anderson of Pandora’s Box on strings, and Ed Kuepper, formerly of The Saints and currently a member of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, who provides some ambient sonics. 

Martin considers A Low High to be a sister album to his also-recently released collaboration with Steve Kilbey of The Church titled Unseen Music Unheard Words, with songs on both albums sharing similar sounds and points of origin, but this album stands on its own and is not conjoined to Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy Present… 

The 13 compositions that cover over 46 minutes are mainly lingering instrumental excursions that draw the listener in with a calm, mellow pace.  Opener “solstice” cycles slowly from dawn to dusk, starting off with birds busily chirping, which fade away as languid, attenuated notes move in, accented by bright, high synths and a laid-back drum beat.  Languorous, echoed slide guitar in the same tone floats by and then a second guitar, wavering with reverb, emerges, eventually intertwining with the slide guitar.  A pattern forms in the background from the third wiry, strummed guitar as lightly rising ambient sounds evolve.  Low register, low-key male “Oohing” vocals are soothingly drawn out until there is a sudden interruption, a knock on a wood door, the sound of a few footsteps, and the door opening upon an evening dotted with cricket chirps and owl hoots. 

A spacious, nocturnal atmosphere pervades “black satin” with its crepuscular synth notes that fade in and out amid a blend of measured, clacking beat, low-tone, Western-tinged reverb guitar, and wiry, lighter register, but heavy-with-reverb guitar.  The gentle sweep of brushed cymbals keeps time, along with the beat as unrushed, muted trumpet notes peer out of the backdrop of acoustic guitar strum and uplifting synth notes.  

“intrigue” lives up to its name in a delightfully jazzy manner, starting off with a light, spacey backdrop of echoing notes and a short, repeated loop of male vocals, then shifting to a fast tempo of soft, but snazzily tapped cymbals as the drum beat breaks out against the spacey backdrop.  The buried male vocals fade, reappear, and fade again until a sudden lull of shuffling static takes over, followed by deep space and muffled heart beat-like sounds.  Globular synth notes, the buzz of a bass line, and some clicks ‘n’ clacks work their way in, reminiscent of the instrumentals of Northern Valentine and Hotel Hotel. 

“lucky” proceeds at a leisurely pace, with subdued reverb guitar, a steady beat, the occasional piano note, light, bright synth patter, and bittersweet violin and cello lines that surface in tandem with a wash of cymbals.  The beat stops and the spotlight is placed on low, spacey sounds and reverb guitar until the other instruments join in again, sounding bright and hopeful.   Delicate acoustic guitar strings glide over “heat 2” along with a distant spacey sound, cymbal sheen, and reflective reverb guitar, with various synth frequencies flitting about.  Softly-sighing vocal “Ahhhs” drape over deeper synth lines and crackles of static, while intermittent words spoken by a girl verging on a feline meowing tone emerge through the static. 

The static-cling trip-hop beat and amorphous space sound at the start of “lo fi groovy” evokes lazy days under the sun, but the placidity dissipates rapidly as two contrasting guitars exchange lines, one reverb and one wiry with rapidly alternating notes, and the tempo rises with a flourish of fast cymbal tap, dynamic drums, and the addition of a hand-hit beat.  Order is restored by the end of the number, with a spacey sound taking over, only to be disrupted by one quick, sudden beat.  “lightship” takes off slowly with wavering piano notes, triangle ting, cymbal wash, and floating ambient sounds until two different piano runs come in along with a faster, clanging beat, spinning metal disc sonics, found sounds, and echoed male and female talking vocals.

Ambient notes appear then fade away on “little emu”, along with busily-twittering birds and male humming vocals.  A picked guitar cycles in, along with bell notes, mid-range chords of Western guitar, and acoustic guitar strum.  Sedate trumpet notes sound, rising and falling sweetly against the guitars, as wordless female vocals caress the ears.  A snatch of a shivery, whistling sound can be heard, and possibly a found sound of a female opera singer emoting at a very high pitch.  Twittering birds (no, they’re not Twittering online) reemerge at the end of the song.

The titular “a low high” has an enigmatic vibe and is full of drawn-out nightfall strings, runs of shimmering chime tinkle, and mid-range, glossy synth notes.   A few light guitar notes form amid the hand-beaten drums and “Ooohing” vocals.  Cymbal tap, shaken maracas, and deeper reverb guitar chords are contrasted with light xylophone-like tings which lighten the darker mood.