Literary Lyrics Meet Baroque Pop in kele fleming’s Return to the Spotlight

Photo credit: Sarah Race For a hi-rez image, right click the photo and select "save target as" or your browser's equivalent.

Photo credit: Sarah Race
For a hi-rez image, right click the photo and select “save target as” or your browser’s equivalent.

no static album launch dates:

Feb. 25 – Junction City Music Hall, Toronto, ON
(early show with Sarah Greene and the Collette Savard Band)
March 2 – Bar Robo, Ottawa, ON

It’s not often we get to hear new music from kele fleming.

The founder of the early 90s Vancouver indie pop band Hazel Motes – which, along with acts like Lava Hay and the Grapes of Wrath, helped define the city’s sound for that era – has a full-time career in higher education now, so it’s always a breath of fresh air when she carves out time from that career to show us where her creative muse has been carrying her lately.

Never has that been more true than with her new release, no static, which sees kele combining her literate folk rock sensibilities with the Baroque pop melodies of Ron Yamauchi (Insomniacs, Soreheads) to bring us a collection that is truly the best of both worlds. Ron’s catchy compositional style perfectly balances the earnestness of kele’s often introspective lyrics, which touch at times on topics such as social alienation and the marginalization of women. The result is a collection that is both intelligent and extremely fun to listen to.

Kele’s musical calling cards remain her jangly electric guitars – a throwback to the days when indie meant raw – and her voice, a majestic instrument of seemingly-limitless force and dexterity that can shift from choir girl naiveté to early Sinead O’Connor-style edge in seconds.

The album kicks off with “Ekologik,” which sees kele singing pensively of being “stuck in the machine,” so to speak, while Ron slowly builds her chorusless four-verse poem to a crescendo.

Its follow-up, “Wishing Away” is pure, hooky pop – a song about a character filled with regret who finds redemption in the age-old realization that love is everything.

“City Ghost” opens with kele singing vulnerably in near-whispered lower registers of the “invisible” sex trade worker in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – the kind of topic she’s been touching on throughout her career. The piece evolves into dreamy jazzy-pop marked by gauzy accordion and loose harmonies that aurally recreate the mental haze through which many people navigate the neighbourhood.

And “In My Dream” is a beautiful, ethereal song about loss and longing based on a paper written by Helen Sonthoff.

Described by the Province newspaper as possibly having “the most original songwriting style in Vancouver,” kele grew up in Vancouver, Nova Scotia and the greater Toronto area and began writing poetry as a child.

Her love of music – she sang and played French horn – grew out of her love of literature, so it’s no surprise that she founded Hazel Motes while studying English Literature at UBC, and that she named it after the main character in Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood.

In its heyday, the band toured Canada three times; played Bumbershoot, NXNE and Canadian Music Week; charted at college radio across Canada and the U.S.; and recorded a Nightlines session with CBC Radio’s David Wisdom. It also earned a review from the Georgia Straight’s Ron Yamauchi, marking the beginning of a productive musical friendship.

Since then, kele has taken up a new career in digital learning, but she’s twice previously put it on pause to release new material – once in 2004, when she put out Songs from the Tinforest, a collection of poetry set to music, and once in 2010, with the release of World in Reverse, an album she described as a “sonic Ulysses,” a collection of musical vignettes that coalesced into a subtle social commentary.

No static was born when she teamed up with Ron as part of a grass-roots composition project organized by a mutual friend. The musical chemistry worked so well that the Province’s Tom Harrison declared “Ron Yamauchi has allowed kele fleming to become kele fleming.”

What he means by that is simply that Ron’s extroverted tunes and arrangements enhance the musicality of kele’s flowing, literate writing, resulting in her most captivating album to date.

Her upcoming album launch concerts are not to be missed.

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