Kirin J. Callinan - Bravado
If Sigmund Freud’s obnoxious theory of phallocentrism, a prickish assumption that the social world revolves around the phallus, is at least partially true in the sphere of popular music, then Kirin J. Callinan is the walking, beaming dildo. Dildo, you say? Dildooo? A metaphorical device of that lewd nature is simply not what I expect amidst my cursory online perusing whilst I imbibe my nightly charred pineapple mojito as the children, Lars and Terry, gambol among the sambucus, I fear I must consider turnsting to a fountainhead of music discourse with greater intellectual prowess. Please, I beg of you my friends, fret not, in a moment I will explain. But let us first shift our attention toward this…
I mean look at that album cover. Initially you have Callinan all shirtless with some kind of standard, squinty-eyed, open-mouthed, mating call of an expression, and then you realize… it appears that some sort of yellow liquid is shooting upward onto his chest and face and oh my god is he pissing on himself? This disarming contortion of familiar tropes is the essence of Bravado, an album that skewers rock music masculinity, or “cock rock”, by posturing as its most extreme amplification and then pissing all over itself.
Kirin J. Callinan elevates aggro-80s splendor to sketch comedy proportions by taking the angle that a secretly carnivorous Morrissey nommed on a ground-up Bruce Springsteen Sloppy Joe – it’s disgusting & improbable, though impossible to turn away from. Callinan’s Bravado penetrates with “My Moment”, a blast of straight-laced synthwave which ultimately plummets into absurdly over-the-top wailing as the opener reaches its climax, a move Callinan pulls again on “Big Enough”. If this doesn’t tip you off to the parodying nature of the album, the unpolished (read: doggam ugly) vocal fadeout will assist you over that hurdle. Then, on “Down 2 Hang” Callinan extends the double entendre of “hanging” to couple Netflix and chill with cryptic, violent imagery: “like Jesus / she’s down to hang”. Though Bravado is less toxic masculinity than male energy, best exemplified by the music video for “S.A.D.”, or “Song About Drugs”:
It’s a shtick Callinan wears with aplomb…as he stands there nakedly, pencil mustache and mullet in tow.
The degree to which one enjoys Bravado will bank on one's patience and appreciation for the “gimmick”. In terms of parody-laced music, Callinan’s work exists in an awkward space between the semi-self aware narcissism of Father John Misty and completely annoying novelty acts such as The Lonely Island or Flight of the Conchords. If you enjoyed that music video above, you’ll probably find a solid 40 minutes of entertainment in Bravado. If you hated it, you’ll smash your iPhone 5 against a concrete corner by the time you reach the lyric, “I could fuck around / I could go down on this whole town” on late album track “This Whole Town”. Like that prospect, it can all be a bit exhausting. Also, good luck getting an iPhone 8.
What separates Callinan from fellow artists who rely upon a heightened persona is that, while the in-joke is obvious, he raises the bar in overall quality to the point that his tactics amplify, rather than detract from his output. Consistently, Callinan’s vocal crooning, howling, growling, and shouting spellbinds. Shove this intrigue through earworms that equal the shenanigans of the gauzy production and the awkward tension between drivel and gripping song craft begins to reveal itself. The Bryan Adams faux-sincerity of “Living Each Day” is enough to force a double-take and “Family Home” could almost slide as a serious ballad. On spectacular standout “Friend of Lindy Morrison”, Callinan’s explosive vocals rise through Owen Pallett’s gorgeous orchestration, showcasing an undeniably arresting voice at work. If you squint, Bravado is an alternate reality’s smash hit of ’87.
Musicians marketing themselves with hegemonic sexual appeal might have their feelings hurt by Bravado, if only it were less obvious that Callinan was angling for his own Adult Swim series. Fascinatingly, Callinan’s artificial persona seems to get the job done more than the real thing: totally unrealistic, but more powerfully engaging and, at least, wholly dedicated.
Kinda like a dildo.