Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There is a kitchen in the KaiserCartel song entitled "Stella," and it's a kitchen that's not ever had any remodeling done on it. It is circa the 1960s, maybe the early 70s and there's light lemon-colored tile around the sink and splashing behind the stovetop burners. The faucets are leaky, but there's a secret to getting them to quiet their incessant dripping, and if you're lucky, they'll stop with the right touch. The refrigerator is a faded eggshell white, almost more of a tan now, but the doors are heavy and thick - the lightbulbs in the ceiling seem weak and capable only of shelling out a limp cast of putrid, tangerine light.
The kitchen that Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel let us sit around in, as ghosts, just eavesdropping like real beggars, like real leeches, is one that has experienced more than enough sad goodbyes. It's welcomed many a happy day with home-cooked breakfasts, a robust pot of Folger's coffee, the scraping and shedding of snow-covered shoes in the winter and more than its share of welcoming shrieks of giddiness. It's been filled with glee previously and some seriously devastating news has been shared in heart-to-hearts over the kitchen table, when everyone else in the house has been off to bed for hours and voices needed to be kept down - though the choked back tears boomed through the dead house like warfare.
The song is about a couple - Spencer and Stella - who are dealing with love's estrangement and there's a mellow mood of unknowing hopefulness showing from both corners. You get a sense that one of them is there in the kitchen, in this cheap and rickety chair, in their robe, nursing a cup that's getting colder and colder, matching the fading tear and kiss that they reluctantly never wiped clear from their cheek. You get a sense that the other will wait, stubbornly - letting the sadness and emptiness eat them up - until there's just no denying what's meant to happen.
The kitchen - this old one - the all-American one that looks like every other kitchen in wholesome television sitcoms before people got crazy for fancy islands and all the stainless steel, all the granite counter tops, will be waiting for the reunion and it will have retained its genuine embrace. All will be forgiven. Kaiser sings, "The evening light slips away/Clock strikes 12:22/I'm stuck in the kitchen without you/You know I'm gonna leave a light on just in case you come back late," and as she sings the "come back late" part of the chorus, she ascends to a pristine pop meadow that reminds us of Ronnie Spector, singing during those doo-wop, early rock and roll days when the girls/women were tough, sticking up for themselves, but still getting emotionally trashed time-after-time by the brutes out there who just didn't get what the big deal was. There's a gorgeous sense of home and of commitment between two corresponding hearts in and throughout the music of KaiserCartel, as this couple plays as if no one's watching or listening to them. It comes out on record and live as if there is nothing being held back, as if this isn't written down, but just leaving them of the moment - these sweet kisses and these very real matters that need some eye contact and some tender, tender care to ever see them through. We're with them all through the hiccups and the waiting game - we're the ghosts in the corner, don't forget - and we're hoping these couples walking through these chapters of hardship and challenging love all the best.
*Essay originally published December, 2009