The Loyal starts off with 14 seconds of “Woland’s First”. It’s only a quick moment but leeways into The Loyal gently. Still, the mood kicks off like a slingshot. From here on, Tiger Lou is changing along with the album, existing in the album and breathing like the album. There is no escaping. The Loyal is its own being. Rasmus Kellerman is the man pulling the strings and pumping the heart. Almost all the album instrumentation was recorded by his lonesome with Peter Katis (Interpol, Denali, The National) lending his production. The payoff is stunning.
Title track “The Loyal” implants the first melody, an idea that will stick until the end. Here, the bass and percussion rebound each other and stay constant, creating a tumbling and strong backdrop. The guitar is faint, and the electronics are eerie, spacey and telling, yet we’re not sure what they are telling us about. The melody, a simple but an atmospheric behemoth, carries through to the next track, evolving into the bass-driven alteration on “Patterns”. As the flow makes its way through 13 tracks, Kellerman doesn’t jump from idea to idea. Progression and advancement unfold all the inner burdens Kellerman holds and tries to release on The Loyal. Each melody jumps off the previous, and the one before that and so on. What is one song is now a system of three or 12, citing a Radioheadian motion. Mysterious and nearly ghostly, Kellerman’s hand-crafted climate is speculative, and the instrumentation does most of the talking. A true man of music.
One of the “catchiest” tracks on the album is “Nixon”. Bass and guitar combine poetically to be sexy and intriguing. Kellerman punches the melody with lines like “Is this what it feels to be special?” or “I wanted to kill you the next day.” Layering vocals adds depth to the one-man band, and his soft-spoken yelp is enunciated. On other tracks, slower ones in particular, Kellerman brings out a deeper, sadder creature. Like mentioned before, the instrumentation does most of the talking, but on tracks like “Pilots”, Kellerman brings full light (or dark, perhaps) to the mood with his modest whispering croon. As an odd twist of events, Kellerman’s vocals are kept at a distance. Not robotic or phony, but sorted through with a fine-tuned comb and held at arms reach, just farther out than the arrangements and instrumentation. The slight echo on “Days Will Pass” keeps Kellerman as an apparition of his own self, as if he wasn’t mysterious enough. Between his introspection, the murky, nighttime mood-baring and simple melody progression, Tiger Lou seeds the absolute of dark and gorgeous. Time is no influence or matter on The Loyal.
This record takes me aback. The production thinks beyond what sounds good to what moves and breathes, and lyrically, I’m still discovering. Indie pop or neo-folk is fitting by default, but The Loyal holds so much more than smooth-sweet pop textures and an indie backbeat. There is so much more here, and even handfuls of run-throughs don’t scratch the surface. Surprisingly too. Especially as, structurally, Kellerman is layering simple takes. What does this say? It says this is a man and his masterpiece.