Burnley, the home of indie rocker Kafka, has been called one of England’s most blighted towns. A weak economy, lack of public benefits, and rampant social problems make it one of the UK’s only areas to actually have a decreasing population. And most of the year it rains. But, just like the singer-songwriter’s simultaneously bittersweet and uplifting music, his somewhat maligned hometown still holds a sunny side.
“Burnley has a great sense of humour, which is really needed when there’s nothing else,” he says. “I also think my songs themselves, despite all the difficult themes I touch on, have a sly sense of humour, too.” And much like the surreally amusing art of his literary namesake, it’s this Kafka’s ever-upbeat outlook that gives his tunes their irresistible essence. An essence that’s come to full fruition with Mysterious Skin (Purple Wave Records), his long-awaited debut.
An exercise in shimmering, widescreen monochrome, Mysterious Skin is packed with literate power pop nuggets that smack of the hook-heavy, melody-rich sounds of the Only Ones, the Buzzcocks, the Pixies, and Guided by Voices, and also recall’s the harder side of early Britpop. Kafka’s passionately confessional tunes channel his working-class, troubled childhood roots to create a singular brand of hard-won redemption— one that carries an aura of inclusive, universal resonance, yet also highly personal.
Among the disc’s alternately adrenaline-rushing and soul-soothing offerings are “Cold and Confused,” a melodic anthem whose sunny chorus belies its poignant, heart-searching lyric; “Goodnight (RFAD),” a tough, angular new wave gem loosely inspired by the enigmatic film Requiem for a Dream; and “Maybe Later,” a desperate rocker complemented by a suitably claustrophobic video. A shockingly mature, out-of-nowhere opus, Mysterious Skin is an instant classic that reveals Kafka as one of the modern indie scene’s most promising new artists.
At a young age Kafka fortunately found music as an escape from the constant difficult realities of his environment, instead of following the troubled paths of so many of his peers. “People look for a way out, get into drink or drugs,” the singer explains. “But in our house there were always records around. Actually, they were probably the only thing of real value.” After taking up guitar at age 12, Kafka played with a couple of short-lived high school bands before funding himself through university, but he knew early on he didn’t want to waste time learning the songs of others. “I did my first solo gigs at 17, but I never bothered with covers,” he says. “I wanted every song to be my own—pop songs, but with a left-field bent.”
After taking some time to finish university Kafka started the five-year process of composing the songs for Mysterious Skin, which was co-produced by Mark Jones (Peter Gabriel, Blue Nile, Black Grape). “Kafka draws from a very diverse palette of influences that create a quite unique style,” says Jones. “He’s very clear about how he wants his message to come over—a very talented chap.”
“I just want to keep making music that’s true to who I am, not fake in any way,” says Kafka. “Life has its struggles, but getting through them is what makes for such an interesting journey.”
And for lovers of edgy, modern, and heartfelt pop Kafka’s music is itself an interesting journey. One they’ll want to take again and again.
Mysterious Skin - Purple Wave Records
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