Music Kirin J Callinan - by Luke Stephenson 8

Published on July 8th, 2013 | by PRESENCE


The Man Who Escapes

The debut solo album from Australia’s unpredictable Kirin J Callinan finally sees the light of day, and after the almost disturbing videos that preceded the album it felt like this was going to be a special album. This sentiment isn’t wrong, with his eccentric collection of dark and haunting pop songs delivering something fresh and exciting. Amongst an eclectic mix of genres and musical styles, Embracism is a little Nick Cave meets musical theatre meets Marilyn Manson meets Flume meets Dr Who.

Starting with piano lessons at a young age Callinan admits he wasn’t very focussed at the time, but became more interested when he started experimenting with effects pedals. After going through typical stages as an adolescent, “… skate punk and a speed metal phase in high school…”Mercy Arms was formed in 2005. “Everything happened really quickly after that, like a million dollar contract at 19. It all fell to shit and nothing really happened, but I guess it set the stage for me as a musician.”

Despite confessing to not having a huge desire to become a musician (“I loved the idea of playing cricket or soccer for Australia, or to become a Hollywood star.”) Callinan has become one, and a very interesting one at that. He’s not your run-of-the-mill muso and he doesn’t make run-of-the-mill music. After a lengthy phone chat with him (and a visiting Kookaburra) it was pretty obvious this is due, at least in part, to him being a very interesting human being.

Embracism is an album that crosses many musical boundaries and is somewhat genre defying; there are a few ballads, some cyberpunk, a little glam rock, austere art pop… and somehow it all works. But why does it work, how does it work? “I don’t have a simple answer for that. It’s personal though, and expressive and instinctual rather than stylistically informed,” Callinan explains.

Although there is a slightly schizophrenic feel to the album, Callinan did want something cohesive and made deliberate decisions to achieve this. “I wanted something that was overarching, with little windows into my world. Maybe it’s a record of the microcosm of life, in the sense that there are a lot of ingredients that might not have anything to do with each other apart from here and now.”

Following on from this Callinan also believes the album could not have come out any earlier, needing some life experience to help create the work of art that is Embracism. “I needed the weight of my own experience and understanding to be able to deliver something of worth.” Although he’s probably not the first to have these thoughts, he is certainly unique in his delivery and the heavy cerebral nature of his music.

As an example of Callinans unique approach to his music, the word embracism existed before the lyrics for track two, or the idea to use it as the album name. Working with producer Kim Moyes (of the presets), Callinan explained how it was something created in half an hour. “Kim pulled up this bass sound and added the kick, while I played the high squealing guitar part. Then he put down some synth chords underneath it… it felt great. We needed a name to push save as, looking the word up on urban dictionary after naming it – antithesis of escapism, to pursure – Embracism seemed to make sense. Not just for the song either, but for what I’d been doing live and who I am personally.”

With themes of masculinity and femineity, as well as plenty of internal conflict, the album is essentially a breakup record. While some of the lyrics are fictional they’re mostly autobiographical, and draw from the heated and passionate relationship of Callinan and his (now) ex-girlfriend. “It was a difficult relationship and the break up gave me emotional substance and experience to deliver lyrics that have weight and are multi factedted.”Callinan also asserts that even the tracks that seem to have nothing to do with heartache still do.

Very recently Callinan has also been signed to XL Recordings, a great label with a rich pedigree of artists including Radiohead, The White Stripes and Adele. “As a label they’re excited by interesting and unique music, and help to enhance the artistic vision rather than just wanting to fill up their bank. I feel very humbled by it.”

With or without a major label behind him, there is no doubt that Kirin J Callinan’s Embracism will bewitch, bewilder and bemuse. From the slow and effect-laden introduction of ‘Halo’, the screaming synth lines and brutally pulsing electronica of ‘Embrasisism’, or  the lush strings and swelling piano of the beautiful pop ballad ‘Victoria M’. Callinan rounds off the album with the sparse and chiming melancholy on ‘Landslide’, a showcase for the range and theatricality of his voice, and the single ‘Love Delay’, which builds in fits and starts before exploding in sonic overdrive. This is an audacious album that has personality and pizzazz… and not in any run-of-the-mill kind of way.


Written by Ren Kirk

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Started in 2008, PRESENCE ZINE (originally called Presence Magazine) is a window into a lifestyle of bohemian coolness. It is for people looking for something new: bands, writers, comedy, photography, fashion designers and artists.

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