There’s a moment at which Kelli Schaefer’s debut album Ghost Of The Beast goes past simply being fantastic to that rarified air of being truly transcendent.
It happens in the song “Sister K”, a track that as it pulses forward with a shuffling train-like drum beat and slow building layers of guitar and ambient noise. As Schaefer rolls out devastating lyrics about the pain that all of us face at one point or another in our lives, she reaches the chorus: “After a good fight with illustrious intentions/after a good fight we barely broke the movement/after a good hard fight with the purest of desire.”
And then, Schaefer reaches for a note she can’t quite reach, but imbues her cracking voice with thick volumes of emotion and intensity as she sings: “Oh God I’m still on fire!”
It’s those moments that music fans yearn for when they drop the needle on a new album or cue up an mp3 on their iPod. We seek artists that pull our most deep-seated emotions out of us, and when they do, we will give them our undying devotion in return. 26-year-old Kelli Schaefer manages to do that with one broken note.
The gorgeous album is the creation of Schaefer and a murderer’s row of Portland musical talent: her label mate (and an amazing musician in his own right) Drew Grow, multi-instrumentalist Bryan Free, and members of Grow’s backing band The Pastors Wives. Together, they have created a multi-hued album that brings out the darkness and the light of Schaefer’s soul-searching lyrics.
The press of the world is starting to take notice as well. The music intelligentsia of Portland chose Schaefer as one of the city’s Best New Bands in a recent poll in Willamette Week (the accompanying feature on Schaefer referred to her work as “bucolic pop with a feral and feminist spirit”). Paste Magazine has sung her praises and debuted the startling video for her song “Black Dog” on their website. Zaph Mann at OPB Music calls her “a raw and undeniable talent,” and Barbara Mitchell at NPR Music said, “Kelli Schaefer possesses an almost otherworldly voice — a beguiling instrument that conveys clear-eyed beauty and truth, sometimes dropping its guard to reveal vulnerability and sometimes baring its fangs like a cornered animal.”
It’s rock music that encourages deep concentration as much as it does a slow roll of your hips; pop music that leaves a bittersweet aftertaste; folk music meant for a dark nightclub instead of your local coffeehouse. And even Schaefer’s straining voice doesn’t grab you in “Sister K”, there are dozens of other small moments in Ghost Of The Beast that will have you gasping for air or grabbing for the lyric sheet.
- Robert Ham