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DO THE ARCHITECTURAL WATUSI Music Reviews

KOWLOON WALLED CITY: GRIEVANCES

(NEUROT RECORDINGS/GILEAD MEDIA; 2015)

kwc_grievances_hi-rez

As with most releases from Neurot Recordings, the words bleak, oppressive and challenging come to mind when describing GRIEVANCES, Kowloon Walled City’s third full-length and first for the label (the vinyl version is released through Gilead Media). The band’s mastermind, vocalist and guitarist Scott Evans has created as suffocatingly heavy a sound as any I’ve heard in a good little bit, with a biting narrative relating the hard-scrabble life of a working stiff just trying to get by (forget about getting ahead). On “Your Best Years,” a molasses slow groove underpins Evans’ strained voice as he laments “They’ll cut you down to count the rings/Measure out your worst years.” As the song nearly grinds to a stop in the middle section, we are presented with a great, droning solo. Somehow, through all of the gloom and despair, there’s an underlying sense that this guy is gonna beat the odds. “Grievances” is more kicking against the pricks (the intentionally vague lyrics, ostensibly railing against an employer, could also be talking about a government or an organized religion) and features more slow-core, intensely heavy riffage; this time, the solo comes as the music begins to pick up some steam before reverting back to the grinding cacophony. A violent crush of noise, “Backlit” may be the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard… a tune that’s kinda like the musical equivalent of watching two trains crashing into each other, seeing the carnage unfold in slow motion.

Kowloon Walled City (Scott Evans; Ian Miller; Jon Howell; Jeff Fagundes) (publicity photo)
Kowloon Walled City (Scott Evans; Ian Miller; Jon Howell; Jeff Fagundes) (publicity photo)

The second half of the album kicks off with “The Grift,” a song which is faster than the first three, but still doesn’t even come close to mid-tempo. The quickened pace seems to make the guitars sound more melodic through most of the tune. “White Walls” is vaguely reminiscent of a Body Count song played at half speed. For the first time, Ian Miller’s bass parts separate from the drone while the discordant, de-tuned guitars of Evans and Jon Howell and Jeff Fagundes’ stiflingly heavy drums threaten to smother the listener. Much more oppressive drums and bass pound home yet another tale of disillusion and deceit on “True Believer,” as Evans intones “He wonders which one’s to blame/And will they get away/Because you know/Someone always gets away.” The cut features a noisy, feedback-drenched solo. The final number highlights the reason we do what we do… it’s all for our “Daughters and Sons.” The narrative asks the questions we all ask: “Did we get enough?/Are we satisfied yet?” just before the hopelessness and ultimate defeat of the human spirit is felt in the final third of the song. GRIEVANCES is my first exposure to Kowloon Walled City and, hopefully, it won’t be my last. If nothing else, I would certainly love to see these guys play this stuff live.

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DO THE ARCHITECTURAL WATUSI Live Music Reviews

KOA/THE DRIFTAWAYS

(December 19, 2015; THE DEMO, Saint Louis MO)

Koa display their Hip-Hop street cred at the Music Record Shop; Koa and their Saint Louis Contingent after the show (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)
Koa display their Hip-Hop street cred at the Music Record Shop; Koa and their Saint Louis Contingent after the show (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

This evening started much like most others when the show is scheduled at the Demo or Ready Room: A visit to Rise for a cup of coffee, followed by a visit to Music Record Shop, conveniently located between the two venues. Walking into the MRS, I noticed a few young people milling about, obviously excited that Koa were being interviewed at the back of the store. Once the guys finished with one journalist, they were accosted by a second… me. The labors of our mutual work is at the top left of this review. The band were nearly as excited to see the kids as vice versa, labeling them “the Saint Louis contingent.” The youngsters were enthusiastic enough that guitarist Conor Kelly announced that they would be his guests for the show; when he was told that the group’s guest list was full, he paid for the extra tickets out of his own pocket. A class act that paid off with an appreciative, zealous group of fans at the front of the stage (and, later, onstage, for the group photo above, right).

The Driftaways (Zaq Nunley; Dane Wells; Nick Christie) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)
The Driftaways (Zaq Nunley; Dane Wells; Nick Christie) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Local artists, the Driftaways, opened the festivities, with their Midwestern mash-up of Ska, Reggae and Dub. I happened to be talking to Koa bassist Ryan Ladd during the Driftaways’ sound check and commented on Nick Christie’s ability to coax that authentic, low rumble sound of Dub out of his bass… I wondered what kind of effects pedal he was using. Ryan told me that it was all Christie; he was using Ryan’s rig and he didn’t have any pedals. I was suitably impressed. From the Two-Tone Ska of originals like “Sun Shining” to their spot-on cover of the Wailers’ “Burn Down Babylon,” the six-piece group (trombonist Sean Myers was absent) offered a set that was, not only widely varied but, totally fun and engaging from the start. Guitarist Dane Wells (who serves double-duty as the band’s vocalist, as well) lays down some seriously wicked reverb-drenched roots-rockin’ leads and solos, particularly on the slow burn of “Creepin’.” Zaq Nunley, Dane’s sax-blowing counterpart, added a nice balance with his own leads, as well a series of quite inventive solos. But, as awesome as the other guys (including drummer Kevin Krauss and Ryan Stewart on keyboards) were, the set belonged to Christie and his spongy bass; his Dub riddim offered a strand of continuity throughout the genre-bending set. His talents were most prominently featured on a pair of instrumentals, “Golden Dub” and the band’s theme song, “Driftaway.” If you have a chance to see the Driftaways, don’t waste it… they will definitely put a smile on your face!

Koa (Conor Kelly; Will Youngclaus; Alex Mathews) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)
Koa (Conor Kelly; Will Youngclaus; Alex Mathews) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

On record, Koa are a funky, jazzy smooth sorta jam band with a definite hippy cast to their lyrics; live, they rough up their sound into a hard rockin’ funk monster. As good as the studio Koa sounds, it’s obvious that they are built for the stage; in fact, as guitarist Conor Kelly told me before the show, “ …the jam element kind of embellishes on the live performance… keeping things fresh by playing things a little bit differently every night.” It’s hard to believe that these guys have only been a band for barely two years. Chase Bader’s voice has a certain husky rasp that can carry a show; add Kelly’s slide work and you have a show and a sound that many older, more experienced bands can only dream about. The jazz-tinged “False Calls,” featuring a smoking Alex Mathews sax solo, kicked the set off in fine fashion. “What Now,” the first track from the group’s new EP, THIS IS KOA, followed. The new material has a more hard-edged sound that translates quite well in a live setting. Which could explain the fact that all five tracks from the EP (offered as a free download from NoiseTrade, which is where I discovered Koa) were featured in the band’s ten song set.

Koa (Ryan Ladd; Ryan Ladd, Chase Bader, Will Youngclaus; Chase Bader) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)
Koa (Ryan Ladd; Ryan Ladd, Chase Bader, Will Youngclaus; Chase Bader) (photo credits: DARREN TRACY)

Unexpect Ability,” had a cool, punky Jam (as in, Paul Weller’s late ’70s trio) vibe, with a chiming guitar part from Kelly and solid rhythm work from both Ryan Ladd on bass and Will Youngclaus on drums; special guest, keyboardist Ian Miller, added some nice piano to the affair. Miller continued to impress on the Southern Soul groove of “Cool It Down,” which also featured one of Bader’s more impassioned vocals of the evening. The syncopated, nearly Caribbean rhythms of “Corbett’s Place” again allowed Youngclaus and his partner in percussion, Ryan McClanahan, to strut their stuff; Mathews also added to the song’s flavor with a double sax solo (duet?). The diversity of THIS IS KOA was perhaps best exhibited on “Gemini,” a kind of Country hoedown with power chords aplenty and a killer slide solo from Conor, as well as a sax part from Alex that kinda reminded me of Boots Randolph’s classic “Yakety Sax.” After the shortest of breaks, the guys returned to the stage (well, to be honest, they never actually left the stage… they just kinda stood at the back before heading back to their instruments) for an encore of the atmospheric “Turtles,” here transformed into a swirling stew of genre-bending jamming and heady solos from just about everyone on stage – a great way to end what was an exceptionally fun night with two groups of highly accomplished musicians.