Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kinski's "Cosy Moments": Music Review

Seattle-based, so the turns to '70s hard rock and gloomy grunge first diverging where we left off with the band six years ago on Down Below It's Chaos should not surprise. However, do we need a talented foursome, skilled in space-rock and trippier textures merging well psychedelic and propulsive post-punk, to show us how it can pull off sounds which forty years ago passed for progress, if not many hits? This sixth album left me, a faithful fan of their output, wondering.

Matthew Reid Schwartz sang on the previous album. For this instrumentally based foursome, this shift after a decade into its career signaled a wish to shift its approach. Welcome as such commitments can be, his sung style ambles between a workmanlike delivery and a slacker dismissal. Schwartz and co-guitarist Chris Martin display their talents best, for me, when playing.

"Long Term Exit Strategy" by its title may betray the band's restlessness at the duration between albums. Kinski had advanced, by Alpine Static in 2005, to pithy yet distorted freakouts that revealed the band's affinity for one-time partners on an e.p., Acid Mothers Temple. Its next record blurred  stoner rock with poppier ditties rather than obsessive epics; the more accessible song styles--fewer amps, pedals, effects--remain largely the same on this 2013 release.

That seven-minute-plus opening track shows Kinski in time-tested mode. The rippling, submerged feel of the guitar effect (yes, still there), and the lazy lyrics drift along, half-pushed, half-pulled, as the female backing voice woozily comes and goes.

"Last Day on Earth" compresses wah-wah pedals (still there) into a jittery, no-nonsense tune. This skips into "Skim MILF" with a similarly insistent pace. As if the Dandy Warhols met Oneida? Like those purveyors of ironic takes on rock conventions, Kinski hurries its take on them and dashes off.

This crunchy texture, eager to show off on "Riff DAD" a suitably boastful guitar pattern, encourages Barrett Wilke's drums to bash along. The song careens along, reminding me of the garage-rock ambitions I'd hear down the street from where I live, floating along up to me at twilight.

After three quick tracks, "Throw It Up" slows down to let Schwartz's vocals call and respond with Martin's backup. The structure remains simple, much more than earlier Kinski. Similar to Oneida, the progressive post-punk takes on hard rock have turned these contemporary interpreters into a direction that appears to imitate earnest pioneers of this genre but which--as song titles convey--keeps winking. The humor may remain in titles, but as for sounds, they could have been more gripping. As with Brooklyn peers in this niche these days, Kinski moves towards convention. There's less payoff here than six-and-a-half minutes earns. Acceptable, but like much of this album so far, it's content to slide.

It's therefore all the more heartening to hear the start of "A Little Ticker Tape Never Hurt Anybody": the interplay of guitars, a steady bass of Lucy Atkinson, and measured percussion promise the mathematical precision of this band at its best, played off against the swirls of keyboards and that spacier expansion. It churns away halfway in. The chugging drums, whooshing snares, and the clunky attempt of the guitars and synthesizers to take off make for more intriguing listening.

With a fine title like "Conflict Free Diamonds", what do you expect? Catchier, bolder. Finally, the vocals enrich its swagger and atmospheric dabblings. With its assertive approach, it drags you in.

This momentum with "Counterpointer" shows a well-chosen sequencing. Without vocals, it briefly allows you to hear Kinski as many of its best songs convey the band. It screeches to a halt, and the pause lets "We Think She's a Nurse" sneak forward, as if down a corridor. Wilke's beats and the return of guest keyboardist David Golightly enable Kinski to slow down and build suspense. This demonstrates the band's talent at surrounding guitars with layers of instruments, and letting space in around them to express ambiguity and curiosity.

Such emotions may explain the final song, a quick "Let Me Take You Through My Thought Processes" bashes along with sing-song but intoned back-and-forth aaah-aaah-aaah patterns and freaky guitar that prove it's been a fun, if rapid, ride down memory lane, or the dusky freeway.

Certainly, the clever titles common to Kinski's songs and albums indicate a smart ensemble. Matthew Porter's cover photo "Lower Canyon" fits the retro mood of this release perfectly. This first half of this may pale placed next to Alpine Static, but for those who may be put off by that album's sprawl and punch, Cosy Moments continues the slightly gentler, less fuzzy, nature of this restless sonic beast. Like its inspiration, Kinski can be fearsome (Klaus) but might surprise as lissome. (Nastassja). (PopMatters 5-29-13; 4-17-13 to Amazon US)

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