This isn’t just one of the best albums of the year, or even the decade, this is a piece of art without equal or comparison. The Kerosene Hours wields a poetic pen to weave narratives of such dark drowning depth only the primal force and emotive truth of the vocals can safely guide you home.
The album begins with ‘You Were In My Dreams Last Night’ which plunges the listener headfirst into the surreal murky depths of the swampy soundscape. Every track is nuanced, presenting the grotesque horror with a strange coddling comfort that consumes you completely if you give in to the submersion. It has an erratic palpitation to the pulse of its heart attack rhythm that sets the scene with a palpable dread that prickles against your skin to leave you shivering.
‘Romantic Fantastic’ trades the fugue state feelings of bleary-eyed waking for the vicious visceral vivid of ice bucket surprise. The listener is thrust unceremoniously into the conflicted and complicated feelings of the manic mind. This is a neurodivergent anthem eloquently exploring the frustrating flux of simple executive function, and then spiraling ever downward in the deathspin of fractured masculine pride, primal rage, and the impotence of emotion caused by the dissonance of expectation and presumed guilt of fault.
The sparkling synth of ‘Hello Crazy’ starts gazing starwards in acceptance of the narrator’s potentially alien mind, but as the sudden thrust of this rocket-fueled propolsion crashes into the chorus, it explodes only to tumble back to earth and be left marooned out in the wild west. The music captures this cosmic cowboy motif perfectly and the listener is left in the wreckage strewn somewhere in the desert, somewhat at peace, dancing themselves dizzy in moon beams untarnished by the light pollution of the modern world.
‘The Radio In My Room’ serenades with the soft caress of stripped strings tickled with a tender touch. The vocals hit with a thunderous thump, gripped with a vibrato that holds honest hands on the emotion behind the words. Over the course of the narrative the story continues to struggle with themes of outside expectations and the healing power of music and finding your own voice.
‘Dance For Money‘ might be the standout track of ‘Fantasy Ultra‘, it exists in the flowing blood that trickles down the cracks in a mirror fractured in the fury of reflection revulsion and a soul sickened by ill-fitting skin. It starts with a wonky waltzing sway that mirrors the awkward infancy of its narrator, but soon finds feet and embraces the listener in the tantalizing tantric truth of its beautiful ballet. It has the artful abstract appeal and punchy poetry of a Tom Waits track jammed on the tip of a fork into an open socket and zapped with the electrifying energy of swaggering storyteller Nick Cave.
The listener is given a moment to gather themselves before the dirging dance of ‘Pretty Ghost’ begins to vibrate a spooky soulful resonance to mourn the passing of the narrator’s miserable former self. Much darker, much sharper, this track has a lurking lingering menace that pounces on the main refrain in the vicious attack of its perfectly paced feral frenzied finale. Playing with the darkness and shadow, this funeral song manages to bury itself in the depths of sadness and misery, yet in context, presents a story of self-realisation and joy.
‘My Dirty Car’ continues telling the poignant poetic parables that make up the pavement of the album’s narrative neighborhood. It paints a poisonous picture of a stifling suburbia and the toxic trauma that exists behind closed doors and the window-twitching anxiety of achievement. It bristles with the paranoia and the imagined insults of a fractured psyche as it continues to flail feebly in the jaw of ferocious fangs made ravenously hungry fed only on the static buzzing of TV ads selling picket pence perfection in the background.
It was ‘Imperfect You’ that first brought The Kerosene Hours to our attention. In the context of the album as a whole, the dazzling star power of this track’s creative brilliance is blindingly bright. There is a thematic thread intricately woven throughout the album, and ‘Imperfect You’ is the emotive peak. It is so heartbreakingly vulnerable that it reaches its spindly fingers out the speakers to drag the listener in and dumps them on the living room floor of its black and white vintage vision of twilight zone America. This is world building on a whole other level. This is poetry. This is a Jacque Brel-esque epic that matches the stupefying scope of its story with the jaw dropping depth of its emotive vocal performance.
‘Shimmy Shimmy Void’ changes gears completely with a punk drunk punch that is more ‘Creature From The Black Leather Lagoon’ than the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ sparkle before. It has the climatic conflict that leads us into the final act and brings back the creature feature horror vibes woven throughout the album.
‘My Baby Is Me’ feels like one of those Red Hot Chili Peppers tracks that remind you they’re capable of writing true poetry as it funkily struts its rhythm right on your feelbox. It has a tearful truth to the tenor of its vocals, and a toothy crispness to the tempo tickled on the snare. It emerges from amongst the shadow dark of the rest of the album to bask in the sun of its introspective shoegazing to imagine fantastic futures.
‘I Dont Wanna Go Outside’ brings back the pulsing palpitation in its synth driven heartbeat to once again evoke the energy of paranoid panic attack. It breaks down the middle and the second act has a much more driven and prounounced power to the painful poetry of its broken beauty. It brings the album back to the beginning in an ouroboros cycle, gnawing on its own tail and devouring the happy ending in favor of the wisdom of vigilant realism.
If there is another album out there that captures the very essence of a mental health crisis more poetically, purely, and passionately, I haven’t heard it yet. Some songs are dripping in vitriolic angst and anger, where others take tender tenor to offer radical vulnerability and connection to the kindred spirit.
Fantastic Ultra doesn’t glorify a glamorous dark, but it doesn’t fear it either. Not afraid to dance in the shadows, we find the neon bright light that shines there. With horrifying honesty The Kerosene Hours surrenders scalpel spilled blood, guts, heart, and soul in an artful autopsy.