Songs (3254769 Records)
THERE'S NOTHING AS INTIMATE, as personal as a King Curly record. You have to know that going in because it can be almost as confronting as it is comforting.
Not because Steve Appel (and his frequent co-writer Daniel Creighton) is baring his soul, ripping open veins etc. That’s too cheap a move for Appel, who isn’t hiding but confession is not the point to these songs. In truth, there’s nothing to confess to in the quotidian, and his singing style is close, very close, and imperfect in real ways, but not wracked with extremes of despair, hurt or other confessional forms.
And not exactly because the sound is rarely extended beyond guitar and piano, and the times it does expand it is possible to imagine their presence still being missed. When the strings raise their eyes in the gorgeously touching Riding In The Dark, they, like the pedal steel, may as well be translucent rather than wood and string; the woody percussion in Skeletons Of Light arrives with sharpness but drift down by the second half of the song; the violin initially at the forefront of The World Has A Gentle Soul settles back into a cardigan of a string arrangement; the bass of Bad Ponies resonates, then envelops, and finally absorbs you in a well-that’s-quietly-jaunty mood.
Those things are low key and cleared of any clutter, and interestingly they make the album a living room, rather than bedroom, affair because they confirm the presence of others and the absence of the near-claustrophobic encircling that this kind of record usually offers. And they aren’t afraid of joy.
Additionally, in an impressive effort for the smallest of small businesses in this music industry, Appel has made accompanying films for these songs – which you can see at his King Curly website – that reach into your heart (Innocence) or your soul (Riding In The Dark) while still coming from the kitchen table, the family craft table, or the home video, effectively.
What pushes King Curly beyond the standard intimate record is the combination of this setting and stories that may or may not arise from his day, but might as easily have come from yours, and the way he tells them that shape them like the small tales we tell each other at the end of the day as a kind of minor stocktake. Those small tales are the passing back and forth of minutiae whose cumulative impact on us – as couples, as families, as flatmates even - is only ever realised in their absence.
“Who jumped the fence at the Deakin pool?/Who smoked durries on the way to school?/Who calls a swim, a swimeroo/Beautiful heart, so warm and true,” Appel asks at the beginning of Who, a song which feels like love without having to blare it. The narrator of The Girl In The Store is captured by a silent infatuation that is light and simultaneously heavy-as-anything – to the sound of a gently picked acoustic guitar that does the same thing – which peaks when he “Saw her one time out on her bike/She turned and saw me and smiled/Wide-eyed”.
Hummed or strummed, offering “birds and bees and butterflies” without irony (or willingness to acknowledge we might bring it ourselves); watching a child sleep or noticing lilies growing on a garbage heap and not just seeing but believing that “the world has a gentle soul”; or making Love Me Tender freshly moving without even a hint of drama, Songs is as plainly spoken and as true to its word as Appel is.
That is the ultimate intimacy.