Not quite the Dirty South…
Kindest Lines are from New Orleans. This, in itself, is totally irrelevant. In spite of the Big Easy’s fine traditions of blues, jazz and southern rock, they do not feel duty bound to pay tribute to the city’s musical heritage. It is slightly more pertinent, though, as the background to the music they make.
Lest we forget, in its recent history, the area has borne the brunt of a series of massive catastrophes; hurricanes, flooding, oil slicks the size of entire European countries; name a disaster, they’ve most likely suffered it. Somehow, though, Kindest Lines’ debut album seems to be founded on a spirit of optimism. Though often melancholic, they certainly aren’t wallowing in the blues, in any sense.
For the most part, Covered In Dust consists of polished, sun-drenched electronic indie-pop. Awash with major key melodies, lush synth textures and woozy atmospherics, much of their debut honestly and straightforwardly aims for accessible territory. This aspect, however, is juxtaposed with an instinct for crafting swirling, surging, light-industrial gloom, albeit of a kind you can dance to. Consequently, their debut is a curious meld of joyous tunefulness and a sense of underlying foreboding.
Unlike most of the more commercial 1980’s inspired synth acts that seem to have multiplied of late like some kind of Korg fungus, they don’t cast themselves as arch stylists, and neither attempt to be sweatily sensuous nor icily dispassionate. On the face of it, this collection seems to exude a kind of unaffected innocence that is rather refreshing. There are traces of clinical mechanical precision, but not as an overriding theme, more like an evocation of summertime hopefulness in a post-industrial wasteland.
Awash with major key melodies, lush synth textures and woozy atmospherics, much of their debut honestly and straightforwardly aims for accessible territory
Kindest Lines’ general formula is to meld massed ranks of synthesizers with choppy, post-punk inspired guitars, trading hooks with one another. Over this, the bell-clear tones of Brittany Terry’s voice cut clean through the nebulous mass. Everything is densely layered, expansive and polished to a dazzling sheen.
It has to be said, Covered In Dust doesn’t exactly get off to a roaring start. Kicking off with a Spartan beat of the ilk of the Jesus And Mary Chain, opener ‘Hazy Haze’ does exactly what it says on the tin, and barely dares to go beyond the simplest of four-note melodies, sounding muted and washed-out until, from nowhere, a huge crescendo appears, seemingly uninvited, to shatter the serenity in an avalanche of emotional indie bluster.
This light/heavy alternation is an abiding pattern throughout the album.
Next up, though, is ‘Destructive Paths To Live Happily’ (sounds like a self-help book I’d like to read), a slow burning build-up of epic proportions. Over a brittle dance beat, it begins with a buzzing bass and a brace of ambient sounds, before the guitar starts conjuring all sorts of thrilling FX-boosted, post-punk indebted shapes, and everything starts to ooze darkly toward the stratosphere. It may be downbeat, but it smoulders with sensuous sultriness.
Immediately, Kindest Lines’ dual personalities start to gain definition, one a gossamer-light, saccharine melodicism, the other a darker, tougher edge. Rarely do the two intermingle, though, with the running order see-sawing between the two sides. So it is that, following on from the slight, sunny and somewhat underwhelming lead-off single ‘Baltimore’, the album swerves dramatically into the turbocharged doom-disco powersurge of ‘Strange Birds’, a pristine, angular concoction of squelchy low-end, soaring synth motifs and guitar that goes from Duran Duran funk to reggae offbeat, coming together in fine, floor-filling style. This light/heavy alternation is an abiding pattern throughout the album.
So far, so consistent. Kindest Lines seem to be intent on bridging the gap between 80’s goth rock, moody shoegazing and modern indie pop, and mostly acquit themselves well, but a few things don’t quite add up. Singer Brittany Terry’s voice, unfortunately, is one such sticking point. She is entirely competent and can easily carry a tune, albeit seldom to anywhere unexpected. Her mid-register cooing and personal confessional lyrics rarely show enough character to add much extra colour to the band’s sonic palette.
When Kindest Lines revert to their wispy, dreamy persona, the results are often cloying.
Some aspects are little short of stunning, however. The keen melodic sense is allied with masterful musicianship. Most immediate are the densely layered keyboards, providing endless strata of luxuriant textures, from throbbing bass to piercing lead lines. Equally as prominent is Jack Champagne’s agile guitar work, removing any impressions of digitised impersonality with a resoundingly human touch. Though quite obviously directly channelling the fretwork of prime Cure (with a side order of John McGeoch), drenched in echo and chorus, it adds interest where otherwise the songs themselves would have fallen flat.
Overall, the punchier tracks are streets ahead of the softer-edged material here. When Kindest Lines revert to their wispy, dreamy persona, the results are often cloying. The drifting ‘Dark Dream’, for instance, creates an atmosphere but forgets to develop much of a tune, and the twinkling grandiosity of ‘No Perfect Focus’ isn’t anywhere near approaching the epic scale it wishes. The uber-twee ‘In Death Not To Part’, in direct juxtaposition with the mortality of its title, is chirpy, simplistic and exuberantly tuneful, and as a result is rather irritating. Their wayward pure pop spirit is redeemed somewhat by the following ‘Prom Song’, again primitively constructed but texturally dense, though ultimately, it proves itself instantly forgettable.
a dose of sweaty grind to the aural blend
Contrast this with the flipside of Kindest Lines’ musical make-up, where the band seem far more vitalised. The nimble ‘Running Into Next Year’ takes all of New Order’s best moves without pausing for remorse and wraps them all up in some gloriously agile guitar lines. ‘Record Party’ is a swampy, opaque ambient ooze washed in burnished colour, overlaid with a surprisingly strong, haunting vocal from Terry. Closing track ‘Colors Treasured’ adds a dose of sweaty grind to the aural blend, taking its cues from a host of minimalist British synth acts and featuring Terry murmuring breathy incantations over a brittle beat.
If only they could find a comfortable equator between the poles of their musical world, Kindest Lines could easily be an alternative pop force to be reckoned with. They have no trouble knocking out a pretty tune, but this pale in comparison to some of the more muscular synth workouts on Covered In Dust. Shamelessly derivative as much of their style may be, there is a wealth of promise here. It’s just a matter of playing to their obvious strengths and cutting out some of the underwhelming chaff. When they do, rest assured the South will rise…
Covered In Dust is released on June 15th on Wierd Records
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle