Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Kingsbury - The Great Compromise

Kingsbury - The Great Compromise

On first listen to The Great Compromise, what struck me was how much Kingsbury reminded me of bands that epitomized a late 1980s/early 1990s sound – not with the outdated, flashy sort of style that probably comes to mind, but in their large emphasis on guitar at a time when the ironically current sound of retro post-punk has finally finished its run. It's been a strange period when a pop genre that gives time to rhythmic instruments has been the thing, making a loud, fuzzy guitar seem out of place by contrast. Much in the way that Fugazi would balance a choppy beat or hoarse command with an abrupt electric strum, or My Bloody Valentine (rather, shoegazers in general) would let their guitars...well, let their guitars do whatever the hell they wanted...Kingsbury is old-fashioned in principle but not the least bit outdated because they remind you that there's a real romantic quality to the guitar, and they let it carry their music from start to finish.

The big deal with this record, other than the fact that it's best treated as a complete album and gives the guitar credit where credit's due, is that there are so many elements that will ultimately remind you of something. Bruce Reed's got an exaggeratedly hushed voice, restricted and restrained, that will remind you of somebody's voice; to me, he resembles Brian Glaze for his relationship to his music, which isn't loud to begin with but is forced not to rise above the voice which would otherwise be further buried within it. In fact, the title track here could certainly pass for something off Glaze's debut record, minus the reverb but with female support. Admittedly, Reed's singing style gets to be a bit much by the third or fourth track, as there's also a bit of a tortured inflection to it. He'd be better off with more of an “all or nothing” approach, either a low whisper or a clear, steady pronunciation of each word, eliminating the rasp that's not there in the first place (much in the way an eighth grade boy is proud of the negligible hair he's grown on his lip all summer, there's just no real rasp in Reed's throat).

Opener “Corpse” plays like a sort of omen, as the title might suggest, but Reed's voice becomes an afterthought pressed behind a gorgeous layer of orchestral percussion (recorded at Valencia Community College, by the way – a fact that is only apparent upon reading the liner notes and thus the first reason for the physical album's superiority to the digital download). Returning to this minor vocal annoyance, though – it's my only real gripe about Kingsbury. As far as those other familiar qualities go, the bass line leading into the guitar feedback and steady drumroll of second track “Blood in the Kitchen” bring Fugazi to mind until Reed reminds you that he's still there to keep the music in its place, and such is the case with most of the songs that follow. On the other hand, the songs that follow are a random smattering: acoustic balladry, math-meets-post-rock, drums and keyboards getting slinky and intertwined. Kingsbury appears a band that doesn't want to get stuck or classified, and while that's somewhat of an ironic statement considering the general number of cliches and similarities here, they've gone smart on the sly and made a record that doesn't quite fit any particular image.

What does work particularly well is “All This Dead Space,” an acoustic track that abandons the overall light post-rock style of the album and lets Reed's pure whisper glide between layers of snare, cymbal, and string. It's a really beautiful effect that makes this, perhaps, the surprising winner of The Great Compromise. Well, either this or nine-minute closing track “The City and the Sea,” which begins with roaring clouds that lead into a heavy rain of guitar which will – yes, in fact – remind you of any nameless, epic post-rock band that you can think of. But that reminder of something at album's end can't be all bad – post-rock's an indulgent genre because it's an easy style to get sucked into, and just the same, this indulgent ending has got the build-up, climax and abrupt conclusion that should be expected from it. No rasp, no omen.


Travis said...

that album cover looks so much like the album covers from the band, The Kingsbury Manx - really, its uncanny the likeness. I was so certain that you just got the bands name wrong. But no! Good band, too.

China said...

When I saw the cover I thought "Chagall," but then I realized I don't know squat about art. I also don't know much about Kingsbury Manx. Enlighten?