February 20, 2013

Test Spins: K-X-P, II

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The best word to describe K-X-P is, well, weird. But weird doesn’t necessarily mean good. Michael Sosnick ’16 examines the band’s image and, more importantly, their new sound in second LP II.Nobody would blame you for thinking K-X-P is a strange band because, well, that’s what it wants you to think. Timo Kaukolampi, the leader of the Finnish group, has done everything up to and including taking up a maniacal alter ego (almost à la Die Antwoord) to convince potential listeners that K-X-P is the weirdest group around. K-X-P’s eponymous 2010 debut album relied heavily on its krautrock influences, while mixing in creative, modern electronic leads over characteristically heavy, energetic beats. Now, with its follow-up LP II, K-X-P’s goal is to incorporate genres from punk to free jazz. While the band tries desperately to be experimental, II may not be as bizarre as it would like it to be.

Despite trying to diversify its sound past that of krautrock imitators, K-X-P hasn’t dropped its affinity for the genre. This is immediately apparent from the album covers — just different color variations on the band’s logo — and its spartan album naming, both plucked straight from the Neu! playbook. Throughout II, K-X-P clings to motorik beats in the krautian rhythmic skeletons of most tracks. When it comes to the melodies, however, the band gets more experimental, with glimpses of gloriously synthesized noise briefly appearing between thumping drums and bass.The record’s first track after the intro and first single, “Melody,” introduces itself with a chant of “K-X-P” over horns and a brewing bass line, setting the powerful tone for the LP. The track is undeniably accessible, almost bordering on synthpop, with bouncy, repetitive vocals and a head-bobbing beat. While “Melody” showcases some of the band’s best songwriting on II, it certainly doesn’t hint toward much experimentation. The next track, “Staring at the Moon,” finally demonstrates some of what K-X-P claimed to be striving for, with ethereal, obscured lyrics that feel more nightmarey than dreamy, again over a strong rhythm.Unfortunately, K-X-P didn’t step out of its comfort zone as much as it should have.  Although each track has a different character, the band’s creativity doesn’t have enough stamina to keep up with II’s unrelenting beats. Nearly every track has a very similar rhythmic personality, all of which inevitably involve forceful, driving drums and bass. While that should be expected from a band with two drummers, it can get overwhelming — and even boring — when there are almost no breaks from this rhythmic assault on the entire LP.II is dotted with a few interludes, and, while their main purpose is too often respite from the beats, this is where the band’s experimental creativity begins to shine. Though the interludes are intentionally weird, they actually create musically logical transitions from track to track. The interludes feature everything from distorted church choirs to tamer but original synth patterns that easily could have been expanded into full tracks. Had these ideas been developed into full-length songs, they would have been more experimental, and, frankly, better than many of the tracks on the record. Their inclusion is a teaser of what K-X-P is capable of, and of what II should have been.Then comes the full-length track “Tears (Extended Interlude),” which begins with an airy choir and organ, and slowly escalates into a remarkably interesting song with building drum and bass beats, lofty synth riffs, catchy non-lyric vocals and otherworldly electronic washes. “Tears” was what I was hoping II would be: distinctly K-X-P with pulsing rhythms but with a novel song progression and a unique juxtaposition of sounds. Rather than immediately bursting in with a raucous beat that doesn’t stop or change for four or five minutes, “Tears” builds to a head and then continues to ebb, flow and transform. K-X-P lets the motorik beat play second fiddle here, and it wasn’t missed. Calling “Tears” an “extended interlude” is selling the song short, relegating its truly experimental sounds to a subcategory not worthy of being considered a full track. This track is almost too good for II’s sake, since it alerts listeners to how the album could (and should) have been more ambitious.After “Tears,” the album takes a turn for the worse. At this point, listeners grow tired of the constant, relatively unchanging rhythms. “Flags and Ghosts” might be a passable track on its own, but at this point in the record, the tiresome beat and annoying male vocals feel grating. It tries a couple trippy synth riffs, but even those feel derivative and forced. “Infinity Waits” is no better, as the goofy, howling vocal delivery and a synthesizer solo that sounds remarkably like a kazoo make it nearly impossible to take the track seriously. Rather than being groundbreaking or genre-boundary-breaking, it just comes off as something the Talking Heads would have thrown away.  Finally, the muddy bass over the thumping drum and synth rhythm of “Dark Satellite” is basically a four minute build-up to something that never ends up happening.While II was almost annoyingly repetitive by the end, it wasn’t all bad. “Melody” and “In the Valley” were both stand-out tracks that would make extremely enjoyable, accessible singles. If K-X-P had varied the rhythms just a bit more, the record as a whole wouldn’t have been as monotonous. Tracks like “Tears” show promise for future projects to approach the band’s goal of being truly innovative and unique, but unfortunately K-X-P falls short of its objective with II.

Original Author: Michael Sosnick