I listened to a podcast recently, where the interviewee – a well renowned Nigerian author – was so moved by the conversation with the interviewer that she was reduced to tears. The pair had been discussing the author’s life: her achievements, her failures, and the relationships that tracked the course of both. As a listener, it felt intrusive to be party to this raw display of emotion. On the other hand, we had been given permission to listen in on the author’s most personal, life-shaking moments, and for that, gratitude was in order.
Listening to Maria Kelly’s debut album conjured up a similar feeling of appreciation. 'the sum of the in-between' acts as an open diary entry from Kelly, where she explores anxiety, pressure and loneliness; but also, hope, perseverance and steadfastness. The album is peppered with short, softly spoken word interludes: voicemails left from friends, and soul bearing confessions from Kelly herself. These doors left ajar invite the listener to consider the artist’s most personal reflections, creating an indelible bond between both parties in the process. The spoken word tracks make the album into a play: chaptering Kelly’s evolving feelings into different scenes. In this respect, Kelly’s debut works as music, but also as theatre. Considering 'the sum of the in-between' is Kelly’s first album, the effect created is all the more impressive.
Kelly’s bauble delicate vocal settles over the album like a mist, and ties these disparate scenes together. Reminiscent of Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker at her softer moments, Kelly’s words pitter patter softly, teasing emotion with the simplicity of her lyrics. A praiseworthy production on 'the sum of the in-between' has Kelly whispering into the listener’s ear – confessing to the feelings of fear induced from entering the working world post-university. Such emotions can hound even the most dogged at that stage of life, and to hear them so intimately relayed gives common ground to both artist and listener.
Kelly cherry picks her instruments wisely to translate these emotions. The oom pa pa of an acoustic guitar throughout provides momentum, creating small waltzes that whirl through the album. Kelly’s inclusion of a cello roots her work to a particular time and place: she wrote the album on the south coast of her native Ireland, having returned there from a stint on the Continent. This instrumentation belies an artist taking inspiration from her surroundings; working as an ode to the folkloric tradition of her home. The result is graceful and transportive, welcoming the listener still further into Kelly’s world.
On 'the sum of the in-between', Kelly confidently makes the listener her confidante. Album closer, ‘everything just changes anyway’ is a beautifully melodic acceptance of what has gone before on the album; Kelly’s worries, fears and instabilities are put to bed, and hope for the future becomes the presiding theme. By sharing her own experiences so intimately, Kelly reassures that testing experiences can be overcome.
Words: Sophie Church
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