• Rachel Cassels
  • Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly

Singer, songwriter, and guitarist Emmett Kelly has always been the sole constant of the Cairo Gang. He usually plays everything on the project’s recordings, but surrounds himself with a strong Chicago-based band for live shows—guitarist Sam Wagster, bassist Ryan Weinstein, and, lately, drummer Marc Riordan. Kelly (who might be best known as a crucial foil for Will Oldman’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy) has spent many years in Chicago, but he generally ends up returning to Los Angeles, where he was born and raised—indeed, that’s where he is now. I don’t know when we’ll get the chance to hear him play the terrific songs that fill the new Cairo Gang album, Goes Missing (due on Ty Segall’s increasingly impressive God? imprint on June 23)—the group is embarking on a series of supporting dates for Mikal Cronin in September, but there’s no stop in Chicago scheduled. In the meantime I suggest you check out the infectious first single from the album: “Ice Fishing” is today’s 12 O’Clock Track.

Aside from a couple contributions, Kelly plays everything on Goes Missing and provides typically exquisite harmony vocals (Riordan’s drums grace a couple of tracks and bassist Joshua Abrams supplies the only instrumentation on a fragile reading of the pop standard “Some Other Time”). The songs move from the moody balladry of the opening track “An Angel, A Wizard” to the early Beatles sound of “Be What You Are” to the Kinks-flavored “She Don’t Want You”; the trademark ringing tone of Kelly’s trusty Rickenbacker also connects his sound to vintage Byrds. But lest anyone think Cairo Gang is some kind of retro outfit, there’s something subtly contemporary about the music, especially its elusive air of tension and ambiguity, as if the redemptive power of old-school rock is about to be shattered by something terrible. That explosion never occurs, which only makes things more exciting.