Review: Kal Marks – “Let The Shit House Burn Down”

Now, I’m not always prone to deflect a kind remark when something better comes along, but, listen listen, follow my logic here.

At the end of the month, Exploding In Sound Records will release the new, five-song pseudo-EP by Massachusetts art-noise trio Kal Marks. And, by all accounts, it’s a fine record, even at times a good one, calling to mind a sometimes-punky, sometimes-hooky mutant not too far removed from titans Big Business. But it pales in comparison to the recent work of Pittsburgh’s TRVSS, at whose arty claptrap it occasionally aims. (Too bad I just reviewed TRVSS’ Absence or I might not drown in the parallels.) And, largely for that reason, I hesitate to get all breathless and spout accolades. As good as it is, these guys are clearly being outplayed. And, for a band looking to push boundaries and get inventive, that’s not a good thing.

Let me stress: this is not to say the EP is lackluster stuff – far from it. One area where Kal Marks excels is in burying a kind of poppy undertone to its grime-rock. Take “It’s So Hard to Know How to Say Goodbye,” whose title alone should hint at its languidness. On that track, gone are the grungy guitars, reverb-ish percussion, and distorted vocals, and what takes precedence is a half-tinny kind of balladry on lead guitar, fleshed out here and there by synths and pulsing bass. Even when the track bubbles over – the roaring guitar bridge was inevitable, am I right? – it maintains its interesting brand of melancholy, of resolve. It works. Or there’s “Heads Been Ringing,” where the band embraces a more straight-forward approach, a more steady march. (Three-quarters through that song, there’s a Sgt. Pepper-esque breakdown that will downright knock you off your feet.) These are engaging moments, for precisely the reasons the rest of the record isn’t. Here and there, these guys soar.

Elsewhere, not so. I like the conceit of “Science Is Science” – plodding bass and drums give way to unleashed, textured crescendos of electric guitar – but others have done it better. And while tracks like the opener, “Nu Legs,” (or the second track, “Kimmy”) are invigorating for their attention to a kind of blood-throbbing delivery, they also revel in a little bit too many post-somethingisms to sell the goods. When “Nu Legs” hits its choruses, the trio briefly cuts loose, giving way to a chorus that’s practically Pixies-anthemic. (They pull a similar trick on “Kimmy.”) But the group abandons the refrain before wringing the moment of all of its power, and return to more art-noise for art-noise’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for that. But, without the power, the punchy delivery doesn’t cause bruising. Enough said. – Justin Vellucci, MusicTAP, Sept. 10, 2019

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About the author

Justin Vellucci is a staff writer for PopMatters, Spectrum Culture, and MusicTAP, a contributor to Pittsburgh Current, and a former staffer for Popdose, Punk Planet and Delusions of Adequacy. His music writing has appeared in national magazines such as American Songwriter, alt-pubs like The Brooklyn Rail, Pittsburgh CityPaper and San Diego CityBeat, blogs Swordfish, Punksburgh and Linoleum, and the Gannett magazine Jetty. He lives in Pittsburgh.

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