Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland (4 stars)

Moving on and moving out in Craft's debut album

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Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland

It should be a cliché – the old long-term relationship ends; musician has outpouring of creativity trope is nothing new when it comes to touting albums. But Kyle Craft's debut Dolls of Highland spits in the face of cliché and rolls with the end of his eight-year relationship anyway.

'I know it's a side show,' he crows in 'Gloom Girl', and it is. Dolls of Highland is a freak show in a dive bar, Craft is too drunk too soon and all he has left are no inhibitions and his own raw intensity.

His singing style, abrasive by his own admission, channels his hero, Bob Dylan in its rough wanderings. In 'Pentacost' Craft manipulates his voice into raw roars aiming for notes that seem unreachable and uncomfortable. This coalesces with what the album altogether evokes – an edge-of-the-seat uncomfortableness, but rooting for Craft all the same.

Each song is a painting. 'Berlin' illuminates the end of the night: 'dollar bills and red lipstick on a cigarette' highlights his single status, while the elegiac theme of the death of something important and a drive to move forward is revealed in 'Lady of the Ark' – 'dozing in the back of a funeral car / tangled in the blankets of your memories' – a brief moment of reminiscence before he's off again.

It's not all late-night hedonism, girls and ghosts. Craft recently relocated from Louisiana to Portland, but Dolls of Highland is as much a love letter to his native state as it is to a lost lover. From the whirlwind rag time piano of opening belter 'Eye of a Hurricane' to the early rock swooning of 'Future Midcity Massacare', his Southern roots are blasted with glam rock and rock'n'roll swagger. Production by The Helio Sequence's Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel keeps the rawness of live performance alive in an easy balance between DIY and fully-realised. Craft may just be getting started, here's hoping he doesn't stop roaming any time soon.

Dolls of Highland is released on Fri 29 Apr via Sub Pop.

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