I thought that I had been spoiled by bands like the Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Spoon, Interpol, the Dears and Franz Ferdinand. I was afraid that every other album that would slip into my hands would be some kind of rehashed version of something else, whether it be billed as the “new Duran Duran” or the “second coming of Coldplay.” Should I despair? Would brilliance in music completely cease to exist after Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois? Thankfully, Sub Pop has saved the day once again with the latest from Seattle band Kinski, called Alpine Static. Rather than continue on in the same vein as their arty space rock opus Airs Above Your Station, Kinski has decided to make it brash and loud, while still retaining their experimental roots. It’s as if Kevin Shields decided to start cranking on a Flying V guitar, playing old Can tunes while channeling Yngwie Malmstein. In other words, Alpine Static rocks, son.
It’s a fairly sure bet that no one who reviews Kinski’s new CD will invoke “the next Coldplay” reference even though both bands have a Chris Martin among them. But Kinski’s Chris Martin plays one guitar in a two-guitar assault of the senses instead of a piano and sweet falsetto. Matthew Reid-Schwartz plays the yang to Martin’s yin, being the second adept guitarist in the band. Barrett Wilke is a god of percussion, switching up time signatures, and generally more than keeping up with the variance between repetition and free-form rock. Lucy Atkinson, alongside Jawbox’s Kim Coletta as one of the most kick-ass bassists in rock. Together, they’ve pushed the boundaries of what rock bands can and should do, having split releases with Acid Mothers Temple, and toured with the likes of Comets on Fire, Mission of Burma and …Trail of Dead. The songs on Alpine Static however, are likely to vault them into more than just critical recognition.
Opening track “Hot Stenographer” could lead one to believe, at about four-and-a-half minutes in, that the CD is skipping. It is, in fact, not. This is merely one technique of Kinski’s, luring you into a sense that something is not quite right, only to bring back the rock as you head over to adjust the dial. “The Wives of Artie Shaw” has some of the best virtuoso guitar work on the album, like Jimi Hendrix sitting in with Black Sabbath. The ’70s-meets-the-future attack goes on for seven more songs, each one grabbing at your spinal cord, jerking you up and down like the marionettes that their music makes us, and forces us to either pogo or do some other ridiculous dance. Kinski is one of the few bands that can come close to harnessing the power of their live shows on a recorded format. And when I say “harness,” we’re talking just barely. Their guitars are like horses bucking at the stall doors, snorting and furious, unable to be contained for long.
“The Party Which You Know Will Be Heavy” takes a cue from former tour mates And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, starting with a slow progression, and building that into a sonic wall of noise, all the while without vocals, that overcomes you. So, similarly does its follower, “Passed Out On Your Lawn,” which ends in a reverb crescendo that has to be heard to be believed. Suffice it to say, it would make Crazy Horse and Sonic Youth jealous. All this to be followed by a subdued and mellow thinker called “All Your Kids Have Turned to Static.” “The Snowy Parts of Scandinavia” starts as a meditation interrupted by bursts of noise only to turn into one of the most measured and perfect pop numbers on the disc. “Edge Set” and “Waka Nusa” wrap up the CD, one of my favorites of the year already, the former being a call back to the guitar rock of the first half, the latter being a quiet meditation, more like those found on the second half, the two songs making up a mini representation of the album as a whole.
Although I am a fan of instrumental music, mostly the sedate orchestral yearnings of those bands like Album Leaf and Sigur Ros, I tend to listen to them only when a contemplative mood strikes me. Unlike those bands, I can imagine that Kinski’s Alpine Static will be in my portable CD case for quite some time, fitting almost any mood, as long as I am willing to rock.