A graduate of the bedroom producer generation, Casey Luong flourished as keshi, a singer-songwriter who incorporated trendy, lo-fi beats, and turned them into melancholic tales of yearning and love. Coupled with his desire for more complex guitar lines and his soft croons, keshi won legions of fans on Soundcloud, where he released a string of successful singles and EPs dating all the way back to 2018. Now with the help of executive producer Elie Rizk, keshi delivers 'GABRIEL', an atmospheric study of his inner life till the present.
On the opening track, ‘GET IT’, keshi flaunts his more materialistic side, resulting in a fun microcosm of what makes keshi so great. A peaceful flute choir sample and his father’s voice is interrupted by sirens and swagger abound. A catchy blend of trap rhythms, heavenly pianos, and keshi’s falsetto makes for a strong introduction to the album. It’s possibly the most upbeat song in the tracklist, and potentially the best, too.
The first half of the album points to some interesting directions keshi points to, but never fully leans into. The sensual ‘TOUCH’ is a standard story about a lust that pulls two people together when they shouldn’t, but the booming, spacious kicks gives the track some welcomed edge. Meanwhile, ‘HELL/HEAVEN’ opens with a tender chorus and explodes into waves of plush layers, breaking out into mangled glitch rhythms. These moments add so much contrast to keshi’s soft, sweet voice, but he never rests on them for too long.
'GABRIEL' also ruminates rather sadly about fame, something which works well . Previously a registered nurse – a job which keshi left to pursue music – 'GABRIEL' sometimes questions whether it was all worth it. ‘WESTSIDE’, for instance, wonders whether there’s space for a partnership amongst keshi’s growing ambitions, narrated over a dreamy guitar riff. ‘LIMBO’, on the other hand, reaches this place, and questions whether it was worth it. ‘LIMBO’ combines delicate, fingerpicked guitars and lulling pianos, as keshi grapples with his own self esteem: ‘I am a fraud, I am the shit/Hoping that nobody notice.’
The album’s biggest drawback is its tendency to fall into musical formulas and lyrical cliché, the worst of which culminates on ‘MILLI’. There’s not too much substance to its braggadocio, and nothing lyrically that demonstrates keshi’s personality or artistry. At other points, the limited sonic palette clouds the individuality of certain songs: ‘UNDERSTAND’ is a touching ode to keshi’s partner, but fails to make impact in the grand scheme of the album. 'GABRIEL' is a serviceable debut album that demonstrates keshi’s ear for gorgeous, soft production. However, keshi’s guitar skills and writing has lost some of the sparkle of his older tracks, and the cloying nature of the album’s sound overall limits the heights that 'GABRIEL' could have reached.
Words: Alex Rigotti
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