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Record Reviews

Kirin J Callinan

Kirin J Callinan’s long-gestating debut solo album is reckless, chaotic and shot through with perversions and masochistic anxieties. It’s also the culmination of a well-documented series of controversial artistic decisions. Why are we still so fascinated by Callinan, asks STEPH KRETOWICZ.

I’m still undecided on Kirin J Callinan. On the one hand, I appreciate the fact that he’s countering the so-called “feminisation of society” with his demented machismo, a sort of contorted take on queer masculinity in guttural camp. On the other, there’s something glib about the clumsy lyrics and ham-fisted Aussie drawl that permeates Embracism, its graceless exploration of a male physicality that you might argue has been long overexposed. But then, it’s that split, that dichotomous view of gender as being two sides of the human coin, that is perhaps too simplistic.

Callinan’s self-exploration is more about the still blurred and treacherous fringes of sexual ambiguity; especially these days, where marriage equality draws ever nearer and the place of transgression – when same-sex relationships stand to become (hetero)normalised and the lines of “respectability” simultaneously broadened and petrified – coming into question.

In that case, what of the people not so easily defined, the guys who wear their girlfriend’s clothes and “cry when [they] listen to Springsteen”? The ones who coach under-15s football and then dare to write a song about the stinking, sweaty, semen-soaked mess of homoeroticism of an extremely repressed sporting culture? These are all questions that Callinan’s very existence, as a character with a growing cult of personality rapidly forming around him, represents, and Embracism is its most incisive realisation to date.

A chaotic romp through territories still off limits to even the most liberal-minded listener, Callinan succumbs to the perversions and masochistic anxieties of himself as “other,” particularly within a typically macho rock format. “A man can meet another man in a bar, on the sports field,” he spits over a jarring noise that rubs up against gyrating bass distortion and shrill synth lines before dropping down into a lascivious “Or in his own apartment” on the title track. It’s an urgency that almost, but never quite, reaches its climax as Callinan chants, “Come on embrace” before his cries are discharged into a fading calm, through a closing grunt. The evocative imagery brings to mind those out-of-hand post-match parties; sportsmen in dresses simulating blowjobs, expressing their latent desires in a milieu of piss, puke, and a rising, insurmountable tension.

“There’s the abandoned album, catastrophic gigs and the clueless cultural insensitivity.”

That tension carries on, within and without the music itself; where a split in public opinion toward this sort of abjection that Callinan frequently provokes begs the question of “How far is too far?” There’s the abandoned debut album, catastrophic gigs and the clueless cultural insensitivity, as demonstrated by his niqab-wearing and otherwise entirely naked girlfriend in last year’s ‘Way II War’ video.

The very idea of inducing a fit in a photosensitive epileptic in the Sugar Mountain audience was already overstepping ethical boundaries, but what are ethics anyway and why are we still so fascinated by Kirin J Callinan? It’s as if this “Kirin” character is the egoistical doppleganger of “Kieran” proper, entirely unconcerned with those around him and unapologetically self-seeking. And yet, that’s what is most appealing.

Like a morbid compulsion urging us onward to the scene of an accident, Embracism is the realisation of the demon in all of us, personified by the degenerate nakedness of the androgyne Callinan and his dark fantasies. There’s a consciously ungrammatical allusion to a breakup with what could either be a lover or his car in ‘Scraps’ (“I can’t regret what I done”), and the brutal imagery of ‘Landslide’ (“The stars are all dirt and god is in the water”) revealing the earthy bitterness of a boy who’s become a man in the face of nature’s cruelty. Sex and violence are indistinguishable, while the barefaced pop of Alex Akers’ assuaging vocals and ’80s glam keyboards, produced by Presets member Kim Moyes, are oddly compatible in ‘Halo’; rhythm guitar, an ambient breakdown and rising strings in ‘Chardonnay Sean’ strangely beautiful.

“There’s an element of foolish disregard for consequences that makes ‘Embracism’ so exciting.”

It’s an unruly sound and poetry that is somehow scraped together and channeled through an electronic mix that is far more direct and affecting than the unhinged and chaotic live performances could ever hope to be, while the observation that New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica “was still thinking about it” when he dubbed Callinan “a child actor at the end of a junior high school play” comes as an insightful one, if not a touch optimistic.

Because, while there’s nothing about Kirin J Callinan that is accidental – a cultivated voice that still sounds like it’s been ripped to shreds, a hopelessly depraved stage presence come from a well-mannered, if eccentric, individual – there’s an element of foolish disregard for consequences that makes Embracism so exciting. Offering honesty, not in authenticity but in a commitment to transgressive performance that neutralises morality and becomes the ultimate expression of camp, Kirin J Callinan makes you think. Sometimes, that’s all you can really hope for.


‘Embracism’ comes out today through Siberia/Remote Control. Kirin J Callinan is touring nationally through September. Read his Track by Track about the album.

  -   Published on Friday, June 28 2013 by Steph Kretowicz.
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Your Comments

NiteShok  said about 2 years ago:

Great review.

blacklight  said about 2 years ago:

Bloody awesome. And despite skinny shirtlessness, Kirin never catches a cold. He's got a very strong immune system.

ghoti-max  said about 2 years ago:

Cool review. Unsold on the album, but I guess I'm not NOT enjoying it. Just feels very forced, overdone and over-tinkered which for me takes away from all the raw, guttural scary on the power-ballad though

rosevich  said about 2 years ago:

i luv it

slothman  said about 2 years ago:

not really interested in listening to the album, but i heard him interviewed on JJJ yesterday and the tour he went on with Ariel Pink sounded really interesting. please M+N, ask KJC to write up a tour diary type thing for this site about it. promise i'll read it for free.

shiroineko  said about 2 years ago:

What do ''SFC'' and ''FA'' stand for?

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

''Sydney Football Clark'' and ''Frenulum Angst''

__v  said about 2 years ago:

''Stone Femple Cilots'' and ''Funcle Arthur''

slothman  said about 2 years ago:

what is it with this site and frenulae?

HennessyKate  said about 2 years ago:

awesome review! playing tonight in sydney at the standard.

__v  said about 2 years ago:

have already seen kjc play twice this year but kinda wanna haul my ass down there just to see s/c

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:

Think I'm finally calling Emperor's New Clothes in this one. His interview on FBI this was the last straw. Zzzzz.....

Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:

This afternoon...

GOD  said about 2 years ago:

I'm loving this record, and it gets a caning in the office. I haven't had this much fun impersonating a singer since Jack Ladder put out c c c c collld..... Feet.

On the internet. Right now!

whatwhat  said about 2 years ago:

Good album, just not as good as Mercy Arms.

Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:

Really? I just don't hear it. Not convinced the hype is anything more than Sydney jingoism. Perhaps I need to give it a dozen more listens. Or maybe I don't...

mud  said about 2 years ago:

Oh wow, I thought it was gonna be wall-to-wall blood and spunk. That title track is very misleading. Cause when it's not, it's a pop album that sounds like the guy from Mercy Arms. And pretty great!

times  said about 2 years ago:

I saw him play in Brisbane last night. It was pretty awful - seems like a joke that only the band are in on. The great rock'n'roll swindle reloaded.

amazinglyblended  said about 2 years ago:

per pupose and KJC/standish carlyon must have been a slightly odd mix

ghoti-max  said about 2 years ago:

Starting to feel like a waste of time. 500,000 combined internet words about a seizure that never happened and an album i listened to a few times to 'get', and it's just not worth the discussion. Plenty of good moments and some fuckin cool ideas, but where's the great album i keep being told about in multi thousand word articles? I should have spent that time learning how to play Mah Jong or something

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

Maybe it's more of a 'think piece'. There are many worthy think pieces out there, though. The challenge is to make thoughtful music properly compelling.

mule  said about 2 years ago:

this always happens whenever someone/a band becomes hyped, all the coolsies hop off the band wagon and start saying it's overrated. it's like clockwork.

Not convinced the hype is anything more than Sydney jingoism.

seriously? this might have been a thing 20 years ago but have you been here? assuming i get what you mean, melbourne would be far more likely to have that attitude (bands completely avoiding sydney when touring is a good example). anyway, most of this hype is coming from elsewhere in australia (this fine site especially) and the U.S.

ImBored  said about 2 years ago:

Heh heh he, ole Stephy at it again.

times  said about 2 years ago:

Mule, I think you're being a little simplistic with your band-wagon argument. For me KJC has always had a lot of potential but I'm yet to see him really deliver. I think I like the 'idea' of KJC much more than I like the reality. But that's just me.

spooky  said about 2 years ago:

I'm so glad he put 'Landslide' on there. That is a killer song.

jenny112  said about 2 years ago:

What a fantstic album.

I saw the Sydney show. Standish/Carlyon played a great set, so did Kirin. They complemented each other well.

Captain Oblivious is clearly a small person.

Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:

Yes, clearly.

Either that or they just don't like the album and think the hype misplaced.

happysnakes  said about 2 years ago:

anyone need 2 cheap tickets for tonight's at the NSC?

message me

slothman  said about 2 years ago:

I should have spent that time learning how to play Mah Jong or something

what a GREAT idea. count me in!

whatwhat  said about 2 years ago:

happysnakes, check yr pms.

spaceman1  said about 2 years ago:

anyone need 2 cheap tickets for tonight's at the NSC?
message me

shit didn't realise it's tonight.

is it sold out?

happysnakes  said about 2 years ago:

I don't think so, $25 on the door

jenny112  said about 2 years ago:

Captain Oblivious, could you offer some examples of 'Sydney jingoism'? Please, I'm genuinley interested.

Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:


Captain Oblivious  said about 2 years ago:

Not for you, anyhow.

black wasp!  said about 2 years ago:

A man can meet another man in a bar, on the sports field... or in his own apartment.

whatwhat  said about 2 years ago:

happsnakes, the ball is in yr court...

spooky  said about 2 years ago:

'Victoria' reminds me of 'Tonight, Tonight'.

dumbspud  said about 2 years ago:

Yes, somebody please explain ''sydney jingoism''. is city vs city stuff seriously still a thing?

mule  said about 2 years ago:

most sydney peeps i know don't give a fuck whatsoever, and are often perplexed when they go down to melbz and hear the city vs city shit starting up. it doesn't happen the other way round to melbourne people in sydney, can say that for sure.

MelonHCST  said about 2 years ago:


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  • 1.   Halo
  • 2.   Embracism
  • 3.   Come On USA
  • 4.   Victoria M
  • 5.   Scraps
  • 6.   Chardonnay Sean
  • 7.   Stretch it Out
  • 8.   Way II War
  • 9.   Landslide
  • 10.   Love Delay
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