Kyle Craft is too young to trouble the 21st century’s list of musical touchstones. But overhearing his recent debut album Dolls of Highland (Subpop) I thought he was some long-forgotten 1970s southern psychedelic/ glam/ folk raconteur: the weird, silver-haired lovechild of Bob Dylan and David Bowie. Craft’s songs have that fastidiously crafted, literate, itchy tautness that people who like to complain about such things regularly cite as absent from the current music industry.
Craft’s lyrics team with a neon-lit bar room personnel of femmes fatales, ageing punks, voracious strippers and the sweaty-handed boys who venerate them. Dolls of Highland plays out against the backdrop of the singer's home town of Shreveport, Louisiana, where throbbing nocturnal action takes place to the sound of bordello piano, stomping rhythms, the odd whump of brass and something that sounds suspiciously like an accordion. Craft played most of the instruments on the album, so it’s likely just an accordion-esque keyboard setting, but you get the picture: Dolls of Highland sounds like the cast of Ragnar Kjartansson’s The Visitors (2012) got nasty then recorded a liquor-soaked break-up album.
Craft is a howler. At apex howl he goes full wolf-at-the-moon, but his default setting isn’t too far below. He also tends adenoidal: let’s agree that it’s not a bland voice. I like it, and I also like that he names his cold-hearted ‘star of the dark burlesque show’ – and his song about her – is called ‘Berlin’. Even in Shreveport, it seems, Berlin has been identified as a last gasp of decadence and derangement in a world turning increasingly conservative, both politically and musically. If you like your heartbreak blood-dark, rollicking and prone to a spot of cross-dressing: meet Kyle Craft. If you prefer it a little more blow-dried and prosecco-scented, there’s always Adele.