The Cairo Gang are not so much a band as they are an amorphous and impermanent collection of musicians — the only cohesive element being Emmett Kelly, who formed the band while attending high school in LA over a decade ago. Since then, Kelly and his revolving door of talent have put out several albums. Most recently they have released, Untouchable, which sounds like it may have been recorded inside a time machine. Kelly isn’t shy about flaunting his affinity for late sixties pop, but Untouchable is good for more than just being dose of nostalgia.
The album kicks off with “Broken Record,” a downtempo lament about the repetition of life and the inevitability of habit. Kelly shows off his vocal range in the catchy and enigmatic “Real Enough To Believe,” a song that would fit snugly amongst the tracklist of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. “That’s When It’s Over” is a glorious runaway train that starts with unassuming, catchy riffs and builds up speed over the next six minutes until we’re left with a discordant free-for-all of electric guitar and drums. “Your sweet little lies, I wonder why I must believe,” Kelly sings with the slightest hint of sadness in the opening verse. The transition from softness to brutal energy is a surprising choice that begs a second listen.
The title track trades in electric for acoustic guitar and hands over the stage to Kelly’s entrancing falsetto: “If you took care not to be so self-aware you might see all your troubles fade away,” he croons. “In the Heart of Her Heart” ends as quickly as it began, but not before delivering a jolt of prickly guitar in the style of old school garage punk. “Let it Gain You” weaves in and out of focus, coming across as a loosely structured psychedelic fever dream that asks the listener to, “make the noise that echoes in the canyons of your heart.” The passage of time and process of waiting for something — or someone — is a reoccurring theme throughout Untouchable. “What Can You Do” closes out the album with the rhetorical question, “time will always move the way that it must / so what can you, but play the fool?”
Untouchable is undoubtedly an album that would benefit from the current resurgence of vinyl (yes, it is available as an LP). However, any format will do. Kelly has created something that doesn’t simply draw inspiration from 1960s music, but also astounds with its authenticity of sound. From the reverb of the acoustic guitar on the title track to the lo-fi fuzz of Kelly’s brooding vocals, no details were overlooked in the pursuit of a sonic doppelgänger that has earned its spot in the canon.