Keep Shelly in Athens, At Home
The sound of an airborne band returning to earth
When Lindsay Zoladz interviewed Keep Shelly in Athens for us in January of last year, frontwoman Sarah P talked briefly about her background as an actress. “That’s how I learned to be on stage,” she explained. “I can’t say to Actor Sarah, ‘Don’t come up on stage with me.’ No, she’s always with me. She’s an actor, she wants to be on stage.” She apparently wants to be on records, too: The group’s ice-cold, palace-of-glaciers debut — arriving three years after their misty, cryptogrammic early EPs — is defined by its deliberate grandeur. Its opening track — titled, naturally, “Time Exists Only to Betray Us” — thunders into existence: a big boom of bass, a rain of glass-shard synths and Sarah’s Stevie-Nicks-as-Lady-Macbeth wail arriving in one shattering cataclysm of sound and light. From there, the album maintains its ether-clawing aerialism, stirring Sarah’s liquid sugar voice into milky-blue synths and serving it in a frosted champagne flute. It’s called At Home, but that’s only if you’ve got a sweet deal on a lake view somewhere in the mesosphere.
Lyrically, the group traffics in riddles, but Sarah sells it like it’s Noel Coward. In the jittery drum-n-bass paraphrase “Madmen Love,” she heaves herself into lines like “Beautiful lies/ Smiles under conscious minds,” her Greek accent twisting the syllables inside out and rendering the words even more obtuse. The plan — deliberate or otherwise — works: You stop trying to decipher what she’s saying and instead just enjoy hearing her say it. She pouts the titular lyric of “Stay Away” like a young Robert Smith — himself a master of making meaningless lyrics profound by sheer force of performance. The album eventually eases into a gentle glide — the warm-blanket wraparound “Sails” mimics the similarly inscrutable beauty of Cocteau Twins. The album ends with “Back to Kresnans Street,” an avenue located in the band’s hometown of Kypseli in Athens (the mispronunciation of which gave the group its name). It flares up and fizzles out in just 90 seconds, like a bit of flash paper or a Fourth of July sparkler — the last remnants of a peaceful dream that stick around just long enough to mix with the morning sun.