The Cairo Gang is the long-running project of guitarist Emmett Kelly, who has kicked it around everywhere from New York to California to Europe and back again. While on one of his cross-country jaunts, he stopped at his sister’s place in Chicago and decided that he’d found somewhere that he could let his roots grow a bit. He immediately joined a couple bands and spent some time playing backing instrumentation for a variety of different artists (including Beth Orton) while starting work on an album of his own, which would become this self-titled disc.
It’s a semi-wild ride, too, with Kelly creating everything from early 70s-inspired rustic gems to noisy bursts of guitar feedback experiments. Running through fifteen tracks in a brisk forty minutes, the album gives you a bit of everything, lulling you to sleep at times while shocking you awake at others. After a couple of short lead-in tracks, the album drops what is one of the better songs I’ve heard all year in “Warning,” a sunny, flute-touched track that finds Kelly weaving his breathy vocals and repetitive guitar figures around double bass and chimes.
”Bones In The Ground” is another standout, opening with acoustic guitar phrases and expressive vocals from Kelly before filling in with warm backing instrumentation that includes hand-percussion, woodwinds, and minimal drums. At less than two minutes, the track is over far too quickly, and onto something else. Some of the longer tracks on the release are also the pieces that tend to drag it down the most. “Assholes” is a noisy piece of lo-fi feedback fuzz that completely breaks the flow of the album while the nearly seven-minute “Silhouette” drops into heavily-fuzzed Sonic Youth territory but drags on and on in comparison to the rest of the deft album.
Kelly is at his best when his guitar playing can actually shine through a bit, and while the album has a bit of a basement recording feel to it, there are times when it really breaks through and pulls off something amazing. Too much of the time, though, it feels like sketches of something that could be even greater. Given Kelly’s history of country and even globe-hopping, it makes sense that styles jump all over the place, but it doesn’t always make for an engaging listen. Here’s hoping his next album ties up a few more of the loose ends.