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INTERMITTENT STORMS: but there’s mostly a clarity in the
songwriting that unravels the mysteries of the human soul..


Graeme Jefferies channels poetry into the Cakekitchen

By Matt Ashare

In self imposed exile from his native New Zealand for the last four years, singer/songwriter
Graeme Jefferies has cultivated both a cult following and a cultish persona as the art-punk
visionary behind the Cakekitchen. Less a band than a continually changing vechile for
Jefferie´s dark, poetic, deadly serious whims and fancies, the Cakekitchen have yielded a
remarkable series of often disturbing, mesmerizing melodic dispatches that began with 1988´s
“Messages for the Cakekitchen”, a disc that wasn´t widely available until 1993, when Jefferies
had established himself in London and Ajax re-released it. The latest message “Stompin´Thru
the Boneyard” on Merge is the Cakekitchen´s sixth. It finds Jefferies, who brings the Cakekitchen
to T.T. The Bear‘s Place next weekend, in the company of drummer Jean-Yves Douet, working his
way back to Europe with a recording that began in London, moved to France, and ended in his
former home town. But travel hasn´t diminished his powerful perspective as an outsider looking in
on the decay of what he once called, in one of his more affecting songs, “A World of Sand. “

Boneyard begins with the forceful drone of the sad and beautiful “Tell Me Why You Lie?”, The
start of a doomed romance framed by the austere buzz of Jefferies‘ circular guitar riff and the
exuberance of Douet´s kinetic drumbeat. It ends with the resigned, almost easygoing trot of
“Another Sad Story,” a tuneful ode to broken promises and unkept appointments. In between, the
tide of mixed emotions and infectious melodies ebbs and flows but the vaguely dissonant erosion
never lets up under the pull of Jefferies‘ edgy guitar, tinkling piano, a cutting violin, or the languid
intensity of his deep sonorous voice.

The intermittent storms of chaos and cacophony that rain on Jefferies´parade of tragically
sketched characters arrive not as avant-guardist conceits but with the inevitability of thunder
after lightening. Jefferies is a disciple of the Velvet Underground, the cynical John Cale-era VU
of “Sunday Morning” and “All Tomorrow´s Parties, “ Like Lou Reed he´s not above blowing
an offhand thought into a full-fledged song. “Hole in My Shoe” starts and ends as a noisey
meditation on a hole in his shoe, though it does include a declaration of love to a girl called

At his best, Jefferies‘ juxtaposes extraordinary emotions with everyday details, deadpanning
cutting observations, and crafting something deceptively universal out of the idiosyncrasies of
an inviting-yet-menacing small world of romance and turmoil. It´s a trait he shares with Richard
Butler, who painted similar pictures of romantic decay with nicotine stained sincerity on the
Psychedelic Furs´first two albums. Like Butler, Jefferies also draws on David Bowies´excample
as alienated artist playing with pretension and grand gestures. He even cops the riff from
“Panic in Detroit” on “Mr Adrians‘Lost in his Last Panic Attack.“ But as the title suggests, this
is an earthbound Ziggy Stardust, grounded in the more mundane world of “endless cups of tea, “
even if that world is constantly spinning off it´s axis.

The model of the rock lyricist as poet seldom holds up under scrutiny, but Jefferies does know
how to marry imaginary and prescise word choice to music. “Even As We Sleep” explores the
tenuous balance between the comfort of romance and the self-deception it sometimes entails.
Lines like “When I look at you across the table with your hair undone and one eye fixed upon the
door/Seems like nothing’s wrong” hint at dark secrets to be revealed. But it’s the climaxes of crashing
cymbals and frenzied guitars rising suddenly out of the stark, tension-ridden quiet that give the “lies
and schemes and poison arrows” their devastating force. And the rough-hewn tenderness of a one
night stand in “Bad Bodied Girl” comes across in both the warm flow of strummed acoustic and
electric guitars and the distant delivery of lines like “If all your fun has come undone and fractured
like a stain/I’ll take you to your apartment and wash your blues away.”

For all its tales of inner torment and treason, Stompin’ Thru the Boneyard is a sonic salve for the
daily blues. Between the exotic textures of Jefferies’s churning guitar and his smooth, understated
vocals, there’s a comforting melodic blanket that offers the tenderness of that one night-stand.
It’s the fleeting and intense allure of a darkness in which you’re not alone.

The Cakekitchen headline T.T. The Bear’ s Place next Thursday, April 6, with the Lune,
Mile Wide, and Purple Ivy Shadows. They open for Robyn Hitchcock at T.T.’ s on April 7.

   © Cakekitchen 2020