“I dream of your burning skin from a foreign place, / You are wide awake while I am sleeping“
Best known for his possessed vocals and thrashing guitarwork in acclaimed Australian experimental rockers Snowman, Joe McKee significantly changed pace with his solo debut Burning Boy last year. Where in Snowman the focus was on twisted vocals and a pounding rhythm section, McKee’s solo effort is a far slower and more wistful affair, which is probably down to two factors in particular: time and place. After Snowman split in 2011, McKee took a break from writing music which allowed the slow, crepuscular world of Burning Boy to bloom. Secondly, with no band McKee found himself alone in Walthamstow, London, where the band had relocated three years previously. McKee was born in Berkshire, where he lived until the age of five when his family relocated to Perth, Australia, and so in a land which he had not called home for twenty-two years he began longing for Western Australia’s open sun-scorched plains. When listening to his music McKee’s mixed roots make sense as Burning Boy sounds like it is caught between two worlds.
‘Darling Hills’ is possibly the best snapshot of his sound, an elegiac torch burner for the hills of Darling Ranges, Western Australia where he lived much of his life. Remarkably free of a rhythm section, the song meanders dreamily instead and centres on a hazy guitar and McKee’s hollow croon as he petitions cicadas to “sing me back to the glory land”. Amidst the pensive string melodies and McKee’s vocals, breezy field recordings and faint Australian news transmissions can be heard, dreamed willingly perhaps or an unwanted imposition. The spectacular vision of Burning Boy is full of such moments where memory seems both a blessing and a curse, and McKee seems to explicitly draw attention to this when he ends ‘Darling Hills’ with the line, “Hear the ghosts come scream in”. Delicately arranged and channeling Scott Walker, McKee creates the haunting atmosphere of an abandoned ballroom, where the memories and ghosts of past waltzes linger on.
Burning Boy is available now through Big Ship Records.