The explosion of abstracted shape and flashes of colour that defined Jackson Pollock’s drip period was the freedom of feral artistic self-expression made visual. In this way, What Then?‘s sonic lucidity draws the same creative line in the sand as David Keenan makes untamed proclamations through great flourishes of sound.
While Keenan’s debut offering A Beginners Guide To Bravery, played like a paperback novel of lyrical storytelling, What Then? is a painting, wild and undefined. Opening with a burst of scatter-shot sound, ‘What Then? Cried Joe Soap’ bustles with forceful rhythm, screeching textures and a dominant vocal performance from Keenan. Spitting out words like “What can I do you for, give your man your order. Before you go any further, make your mark and sign your name”. From the outset, this is a very different David Keenan.
What Then? is an album that moves. Rumbling into the tense cacophony of ‘Bark’, Keenan’s lyrical musings mangle and tangle themselves around the music. While tracks like ‘The Grave of Johnny Filth’ snarl with pointed words and rhythms, Keenan’s cast of downtrodden characters occupy tightly woven stories.
However, What Then? isn’t without subtlety. Songs like the slow-burning ‘Philomena’ rest in wandering textures, while Keenan’s soaring vocals raise lyrics like “Philomena tell me a story. Sing me to sleep. I’ve been in the wars” above the album’s turbulence. ‘The Boarding House’ follows the same step, contorting a swaying ballad around washing soundscapes and jangled piano lines.
‘Peter O’Toole’s Drinking Stories’ marks What Then? with a sure-footed display of melding sonic passages and lyrical twists and turns. David Keenan’s best work of singular storytelling, the track takes shape within a stylistically vibrant world of its own. Once again, the record’s production matches the performance, as Keenan growls out, “let the truth be known the boy has snapped. We’ve never seen nothing like this before. All the bells have tolled he’s never coming back, cracked, smacked, stoned.” Resulting in encapsulation of its parent record’s obscured milieu.
And so it goes, David Keenan went away to dream it all up again and returns every bit the vagabond artist. What Then? is a whirlwind of ideas that come from all directions. Much like Pollock’s paintings, What Then? is an album where performance, words, and sound all rush and blur into one primal expression. While Keenan resides at its core, our charismatic unreliable narrator is interested only in telling the tales he’s collected since our last meeting.