God bless Jonathan Poneman. Now, I know that statement might sound somewhat hollow coming from an atheist, but I reiterate, many blessings upon the Poneman household. After his label had its second golden age with fey indie pop bands such as The Postal Service and the Shins, Sub Pop could have easily just rode that horse into the ground, becoming the sole provider of the soundtracks to several shows on the new CW. Instead, the biggest little indie label out there expanded its portfolio by riding the wave of the Renaissance of comedy, letting Sam Beam experiment with other bands and sounds, and finally, holding onto Kinski, quite probably their best local signing. (Take that, grunge worshippers!) With Down Below It’s Chaos, Kinski meet my one and only criteria for greatness, the ability to, if not consistently put out good work, to get better with every release. I could respectively count on both hands the number of authors (i.e., Philip Roth, Michael Chabon), directors (Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson) and musicians (Sigur Rós, Sufjan Stevens) who fall into this realm of greatness, and now Kinski can be counted among them.
On the surface, it seems as though there’s not much different between 2005’s Alpine Static and Down Below It’s Chaos, other than the obvious difference in height references. The albums share the same musclebound guitar riffs, affinity for fuzzed out effects and a ’70s krautrock / metal explosions meets apocalyptic future vibe to the whole thing. But with Kinski, there’s always much more than what lies on the surface. You see, you merely have to follow the direction of the title to figure that one out. Actually, there is one obvious difference between this album and everything else by Kinski. This time around…it’s personal. What I meant to say was, guitarist Chris Martin sings! (And no, not that Coldplay dude, aka Mr. Paltrow, aka “I’ve guested on every top 40 rap album coming out this summer and fall.”) There’s something on Down Below It’s Chaos for everyone. Do you like the gauzy, yet thrilling detachment of post-rock? Then you’ll love Kinski! Do you like melody with your metal and accessibility with your avant-garde? Then you’ll really love Kinski! Would you want all of that, plus even more similarity to Sonic Youth thanks to Martin’s strong yet not overpowering vocals? Then you…will…fucking…love Kinski!
A guitar riff that would make Mastodon jealous fills the room space as “Crybaby Blowout” opens the record. By the time the second guitar kicks in, it’s as if Martin and Matthew Reid-Schwartz are scoring their own version of a Kinski only Guitar Hero. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a high-energy car chase / heist / gun battle scene in the “Spider-Man vs. KISS and the Phantom of the Park” movie. The first vocal moment comes in the second track, “Passwords and Alcohol.” Kinski have said before in interviews that lyrics would just seem tacked on to most of their songs and are somewhat unnecessary. The few vocal songs on Down Below It’s Chaos have found Kinski surmounting that problem by keeping words simple, at a minimum, and never overpowering the melody, progression or organic nature of each track. In a way, it reminds me of Jesu, and how Justin Broadrick’s vocals remain unobtrusively secondary to the driving nature of the undulating wall of noise. However, nothing quite prepares you for the absolute exquisiteness of “Boy, Was I Mad!” If there’s a Hollywood music coordinator out there looking to score the next monster track (pun intended) to their next zombie flick, this is it!
“Argentina Turner” and “Child Had to Catch a Train” provide some ’60s psychedelic pop metal, maybe just to prove that the influences on Kinski lie not just in the Germany of the ’70s or the present day post-rock rebirth. “Plan, Steal, Drive” is a spectacular standout track, like Zeppelin covering a Who song with moments of Floyd and ending with the grandiosity of Metallica. It’s a textbook example of the beauty of timing. “Punching Goodbye Out Front” then aggressively brings back the rock and not a moment too soon. The buildup of “Plan, Steal, Drive” into sonic mastery leaves you wobbling for that `goodbye punch’ to knock you on your ass. “Silent Biker Type,” besides being one of the best titles I’ve heard, closes out the album with another `quiet intro leads into a downward spiral into madness, which brings us full circle into the album’s title. Yes, down below it is chaos, but if Kinski is the house band down there, I’ll gladly drop through those Dantean seven levels to get there with them.