Up until the time surrounding this release, the Cairo Gang was largely a solo project stemming off of the talents and songwriting of multi-instrumentalist Emmett Kelly. Kelly recorded several Cairo Gang albums as well as famously backing up Bonnie "Prince" Billy on albums like The Wonder Show of the World, among others. Tiny Rebels is more a mini-album than an EP, with six tracks dipped in generous amounts of reverb and tremolo and finding Kelly showcasing his knack for sunny pop harmonies and Byrds-esque 12-string guitar leads. While the looming, sitar-like guitar tones, bright vocal harmonies, and airy psychedelic atmosphere of "Take Your Time" immediately bring to mind the Byrds in their more tripped-out moments, the song also calls to mind Da Capo-era Love and the work of lesser-known '60s psych-janglers the Dovers. The free-form breakdown in the middle is one or two shades away from being a direct reference to "Eight Miles High," and the ominous pop of "Shake Off" would sound at home among the obscure '60s folk-rock bands on the Nuggets compilation series. Paradoxically, the retrofitted production works best on "Shivers," a dark and drudging cover of pre-Birthday Party outfit Boys Next Door. The Cairo Gang's reading of this dour, chilling tune originally sung by Nick Cave is a standout amidst the more upbeat jangle pop of the rest of Tiny Rebels. The jarring stereo-panned tremolo guitar that opens "Father of the Man" is about as psychedelic as the brief set of songs gets, keeping them more on the pop side of things than drifting into the experimental realms Kelly and crew are capable of. It's an intriguing listen, especially in terms of production and how close to the sound of mid-'60s psych-folk the band was able to come. On top of that, Kelly's songs overflow with sticky melodies and toothy guitar lines, making the band noteworthy in the same way as Beachwood Sparks, the Clientele, or other backward-looking, forward-moving indie rock acts.
Tiny Rebels Review
by Fred Thomas