REVIEW: KITHKIN LIVE AT THE BANANA STAND

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This isn’t the album we were hoping for, but it’s the album we got. A year and two months ago Kithkin called it quits at a sold out and ravenous show at the Chop Suey, with new material in the hopper everything came to a halt. To review this material on a normal scale just won’t work because on one level this is not an album, its a live album, it doesn’t have the vision and intention of their EP Takers and Leavers, or their album Rituals, Trances, and Ecstacies for Humans in Face of the Collapse, but it is new material that we might otherwise never have had the opportunity to hear as cleanly recorded as this, and so for that alone it’s amazing.

I heard these new songs once or twice, and I noticed at the time how reserved Kelton Sears, Ian McCutcheon, Bob Martin, and Alex Barr appeared as they played through them. Maybe it was the impending ending of the band, maybe it was the relative newness of the songs, maybe it was a kind of growing up. When I interviewed Kelton and Ian back in December of 2014 they talked at length about where the band was going and that while the spirit of the band would always be the same, some of the more schtick elements were beginning to fade away. They’d stopped using the nicknames they created for themselves and much of the iconography was replaced with musicians working diligently on honing their craft. These live recordings don’t hint at a band slowing down and playing a more relaxed set, it’s violent, aggressive, and awe inspiring.

When Shawn Simmons recorded Rituals… he sold the band on his vision by wanting to make the drums loud “really fucking loud,” was the quote from Kelton, the other thing Simmons wanted to do was record the album live in studio. The drums are less thundering on this album, which is reasonable, it’s not highly produced and polished, but it is recorded live. While there are some technical constraints at play here, it’s a really wonderful representation of the band, the loose live environment allows for the flowing non-stop noise especially in the atmosphere of Alex Barr’s guitar. The performance is as passionate and lively as you’re going to hear Kithkin, even on the newer songs that I thought were more relaxed, until I heard this recording.

This album is nine songs long, four from Rituals… and five new ones, and I was reminded of what I heard a year ago when Kithkin was still playing together; these new songs have a more pop flavor and rely more heavily on Bob Martin’s keyboard and synthesizer not only filling the empty space in between Alex’s haunting guitar, Kelton’s crunching bass, and Ian’s rumbling drums, but providing the driving melody. There’s still plenty of that wild sloppiness that has always made Kithkin so fun, as pop driven, post-rock, no wave as songs like The Blizzard and the Funeral or Running Feelings might seem they still deliver a healthy doze of that gritty tree-punk and some songs like Wand or Cable and Vines go all the way into their familiar raw earthy rock. Interestingly enough I could hear elements of song writing and performance that has carried into the members new projects like Bigfoot Wallace and his Wicked Sons, or KA.

Many if not every single song on Rituals… was spilling over with the deeply emotional trauma that the members of Kithkin were enduring during the writing and recording process of the album. The angsty pain vocals and song titles of the new songs hint that there was no lack of emotionally testing events taking place here as well. I got an immediate chuckle out of N.P.C. a gaming term for Non-Player Character, which turned introspective when grappled with the idea of a real life non-player character.

I wanted to be happy that this album exists, I once fantasized writing something like this very review, imagining the band finding some way to get the unreleased work-in-progress songs released. I genuinely wanted to hear these songs and not just let them rest in my memory, they’re better than I remember them. The truth is that now that I’ve listened to these songs a few times through I just feel heartbroken, Kithkin hadn’t even reached the top of their game, there was still so much more for them to do and these songs just reminded me of that. I want to live in an alternate reality where Kithkin doesn’t break up and instead I get to hear where they were taking their sound. It’s not so much that this album made me sad, because it exhilarated me, but these incredible new songs will always leave a big “what if” in the back of my mind.

We might very well be headed for the apocalypse in one way or another and if Kithkin’s music stood for anything it was preparing us for the end of days, the line from Sorcerer “I know / Every answer begs a question / Every end is just a new beginning / I Hope / I’m Right” is a personal mantra for me. Thusly it feels only fitting that we should get this album right now. I’ve never been a real fan of the live album, and albums of unreleased material has interested me less and less, but if there’s one way that we should all remember Kithkin, it is with this album and these songs new and old.

The biggest of thank you’s to Banana Stand Media for giving the world these songs and for giving me one more opportunity to write about Kithkin once again, it has always been one of my greatest pleasures. Kithkin Live from the Banana Stand is available now at bananastandmedia.bandcamp.com, where they not only have this amazing album but dozens of other great live albums, go catch them all.

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