Paris-based British musician Kate Stables—better known by her alias This Is The Kit—has been quietly releasing unique albums of thoughtful alt-folk music since 2008, when her debut Krulle Bol came out to barely modest fanfare. But with the arrival of the outstanding Moonshine Freeze in 2017, it seems her reputation among the most distinctive and interesting singer-songwriters of recent years had been finally recognized, and in the years since she’s appeared on records by the likes of The National and Big Red Machine.
Her latest LP, Off Off On, feels like the work of a mind that is usually hopeful, clear-eyed, even optimistic, but now fractured and clouded by the unavoidable horror of the world as we know it in 2020. Lead single ‘This Is What You Did’ hurries past in a fit of anxiety—a melodic rendering of a brain racing with irrepressible thoughts of inexplicable personal guilt and catastrophe (“This is what you did, this is what you get / This is what they want, why are you still here?”). Meanwhile, “Was Magician” takes after Ursula K. Le Guin’s speculative fantasies in a succession of half-finished sentences. But there is nothing fatalistic here. Rather, there is a wish for communal care and compassion through crisis, as “Carry Us Please” and the more upbeat “Coming To Get You Nowhere” impart.
Devised for the most part while touring with The National in 2019, on whose album I Am Easy To Find she appeared, it appears working in collaboration with someone else’s band has contributed to this album’s maturity and range. For all the worry and dread acknowledged in the lyrics, there is musical beauty, tenderness and clarity found in the endless mental tangles and knots. From fast-paced banjos and complex percussion to eloquent horn sections, her band (featuring Rozi Plain, Neil Smith, Jesse D. Vernon, and Jamie Whitby-Coles) are on superb form, and enhanced by the production of alt-folk maestro Josh Kaufman (Muzz, Bonny Light Horseman). The album closes with This Is The Kit’s longest track to date—the six-minute “Keep Going”—which ends on a note of faith and positivity as its unhurried guitar line and soothing piano float on into eternity.
The title track was inspired by a visit Stables made to a dying friend as she observed the flickering lights keeping him alive. When heard during a global pandemic, “Off Off On” has a relevance that stretches beyond its backstory. She reminds us to be kinder to ourselves, that we each need time for our brain to switch off and heal, to catch up with itself. If there’s anything to weather us all through this storm, it’s the resilient and empathetic attitude that Stables invites us to take.
Label: Rough Trade