Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy Present – Unseen Music Unheard Words


Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy Present - Unseen Music Unheard Words

An album over three years in the making, Unseen Music Unheard Words is an inviting blend of lyrics and vocals by Steve Kilbey of The Church and soundscapes by Martin Kennedy of All India Radio.  Their collaboration spans 12 songs at 51 minutes and delivers gently flowing, relaxed, and mesmerizing atmospherics with Steve’s inimitable vocal and lyrical contemplation front and center.  Steve and Martin are in their element, creating a varied palette of moods and sounds that range from day-dreaming to nocturnal, with Steve at his most immediate and charismatic, while still maintaining his trademark mysterious reserve. 

Opener “eyes ahead” sets the slowly unfurling pace with low-key, sustained organ notes, a laid-back drum beat, brushed cymbals, and guitar notes with Steve’s eiderdown, sing-talking vocals floating down as he intones “…I fight off the birds / that feed off my words / but my brain fuels my thoughts / because my heart has been cauterized / …and now who knows what lies ahead?”  Little tip-tapping glitches and starry triangle tings brighten the sound along with wavering, attenuated synth notes and backing vocal “Ahhhs” by Steve’s brother, John Kilbey. 

The downbeat, neo-jazz vibe of “my will be yours” recalls Portishead with electronic touches rubbing against brushed drums, subdued woodwinds, and the occasional organ note, sparked by a dalliance of wordless female vocals and distinct breathing mingling with Steve’s aching and hushed vocals as he reaches into a higher register at the end of phrases, his usual deadpan delivery giving way to a longing, delicate tone as he sings “My will be yours / your will be mine / I will lose all that I find.” against muted, mournful trumpet and organ notes. 

Proceedings take a more ominous turn on “stretch into the stars” with its hard-picked acoustic guitar intro that recalls the start of “Hotel California” by The Eagles.  A slow drum beat and low-buzz bass line that shadows the drums are filled with foreboding as a sustained, low-tone “angelic voices” chorus of synth notes rises amid Steve’s darker, measured delivery, as he postulates “You might have told me / that our love would last / stretching into the past…”  Backing male vocals mirror and intertwine intricately with Steve as a spacey, nocturnal sound pervades the atmosphere. 

The darker aura is dispelled by “maybe soon”, a lighter number with constantly strummed acoustic guitar, a clacking, shuffling beat, and Steve sing-talking calmly and smoothly, accented by male and breathy female vocals.  A mandolin-like guitar, orchestral strings, and Western guitar reverb all take a turn in supporting Steve as he sighs “Child don’t take it hard / it’s just that all your cards / ain’t aces.” 

Steve’s vocals sound under duress at times during “uh i dunno” where there is a little grain to his voice, so that he sounds less sleek, but more natural, inflecting against the darker, wiry strum of reverb guitar, spare, mid-tempo beat, and spacey synth notes.  The chorus sports a fuller, rousing guitar strum as John on backing vocals sings “What’cha gonna do?” while Steve replies with a matter-of-fact shrug, “I dunno.” 

On “thought of leaving” Steve conjures the mystery of old, coolly sing-talking in a deeper register on the verses about how “If life was like a tranquil pool / I’d dive in first just like a fool…”, then contrasting with a sweeter register on the start of the chorus, while shifting to a lower tone by the end, as he breathily opines “You said the thought of leaving / made you feel so strange / made you feel like grieving / for every little change / for every empty evening / and every wasted day.” 

“love increased” is the hypnotic highlight of the album, and its motif is in line with many of the opening numbers on albums by The Church, with its expansive-space sound, reverb guitar, chiming guitar, and hand-beaten drums, with Steve talking amid a “la da da da” chorus of airy female vocals.  The verses are rife with descriptive lyrics about a “…war was fought in the sky / angels fell… / a war where no one could die…”  A yearning, suspended feeling envelops the song as Steve transfixes with short phrases on the chorus “…the desert night / some strange light / the fires touch / I want so much / the shifting sands / the lifting hands / the prophet’s eyes / the summer sky / the wind and the sea / brings you to me…” amid muted trumpet notes and strings, which fade away near the end of the song as Steve continues to sing-talk… 

A somber trip-hop beat and squelchy bass notes follow Steve’s vocals (or vice versa) on “naked as a star”, a tune that has Steve in a playful mood on the verses, vocally slinky and higher in register, conjoining with alternating male and female “Ahhhs” and “Oohs” as he breathes “…and I’ll appear / when night is near / if you’d like me to.”  The chorus of low, drawn strings is at a remove, as if transmitted via a phone receiver, as the female vocals take over fleetingly and the word “follow” is sung in a flute-like, but forlorn tone, recalling guest vocalist Simone Larsen on a-ha’s song “Velvet”. 

The album ends with “friends are gone”, Steve and Martin’s take on a piano ballad with a soft beat, steadily strummed guitar, piano notes, and spacey background sounds followed by runs of guitar and Steve in the spotlight, his words blurring at times as he sighs “All your fears have come / imaginary, every one.” 

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