Not Just Another Brick In The Wall
Kowloon: an area of Hong Kong, once an isolated, destitute walled city. But with the push of industrialization, it is now expanding up and out into a cultural zenith in southeast Asia. Considering the fortification, it seems fitting that Boston-based Americana-pop band The Longwalls named their latest record after this blooming neighborhood. Kowloon, the album, explores themes like alienation and melancholy, but also hope and resiliency — the same struggles facing its namesake. The Longwalls drench their latest record in ’90s alt-rock goodness, including plenty of overdrive and power chords. But a country vibe emanates throughout the songs as well; banjos, mandolins, and a pedal steel guitar all make appearances. The mixing of these styles demonstrates a Western translation of an ancient Eastern image that is not only unique but also mature, poignant, and personal.
This is not to say that Kowloon is flawless. In today’s world, where people open and close tabs as quickly as they skip tracks, an album’s opening is crucial to its success. “Vaasa” immediately chills the audience. Shrouded in eerie vocals and minor chords, the song sonically recreates a haunting, lonely atmosphere. The lyrics further support the alienating mood: “Boys were sent to live amongst the wolves and they were cold / Vaasa, rush me to your side / Fill me up with pride / it was cold and dark and blue and I miss you.” It certainly sets the tone of the record, but it shocks rather than blends.
Though the themes on Kowloon are affecting, a poppy sound dominates the record. Fans will be pleased to see that The Longwalls have not abandoned the prominent ’90s style of their previous album, Careers in Science. They expertly layer melodic ‘Ooohs’ over gritty distortion, building pretty sounds for the forlorn and hopeful songs alike. “Big MT” and “Liberty Bell” reveal the band’s inclination to fill songs with a variety of guitar effects. Additionally, singer Alan Wuorinen’s voice sounds just as clear and strong through a mournful lower register as it does in a throaty whisper. The Longwalls’ undeniable fluidity and cohesiveness shines on these poppy songs.
However, the record’s strength comes from the juxtaposition of these Weezer-worthy songs and soft, folky ones. Note the beauty of “Woods Pretty,” enhanced by a string section and banjo combination. The country influence is the key that keeps Kowloon from becoming heart-wrenching. The Longwalls have created a solid album that treats melancholy with a bit of twang, a pinch of grunge and a ton of heart.