Poignant Thoughts and Auxiliary Aplenty
Modern indie folk music is a big tent, one with many styles and influences getting mixed up by musicians who wind up creating songs that are tough to describe without a bevy of hyphenated adjectives. Tapping from the realms of powerful female songwriters and early aughts ensemble groups is Paris-based band This Is the Kit, whose latest release, Moonshine Freeze, is full of poignant phrasing and distinctive blends of guitars, synths, pianos and auxiliary aplenty.
The group’s 2015 release, Bashed Out, received much acclaim — especially from British music press — as a breakout record. Two years later, the band have steadied and solidified their sound into one that is thoughtful, sensitive and full of little sonic surprises.
From the album opener “Bulletproof,” This Is the Kit give off the vibe of letting listeners in on a quiet, thoughtful secret.“Everything we broke today / needed breaking anyway,” sings bandleader Kate Stables on the opener. Their sound is warm and inviting, like morning light streaming through clean windows, even when the songs’ messages are on the more mournful or reflective side. Yet it isn’t a tired sound, as the group dabble in unexpected musical choices like horns and pianos in places one wouldn’t necessarily think to find them.
Though track two, “Hotter Colder,” shows off an edgier side with grungy chord choices, it continues in contrast to Stables’s understated vocal delivery. She sings in an almost muted way; she’s hardly one to belt or shout loud, but instead opts for a quieter approach, as if she is inviting the listener to lean in close to hear what she has to say. The band are in sync, whether they are going for a relaxed or assertive setting, filling up the track with layer upon layer of auxiliary and moody tones.
While Stables succeeds as bandleader, This Is the Kit succeed as an ensemble effort. “All Written Out in Numbers” is a great example of how This Is the Kit can introduce a song based around a lyrical structure then let the instrumentation transform into something more. The last minute of the track is devoted to bells, twinkling tones and soft shaker rhythms, with a slightly mystical guitar part — it comes across almost as more of an homage to prog than folk. “Easy on the Thieves” brings back the more delicate side, with layered harmonies above a delicately plucked melody. It has almost a Renaissance troubadour feel, with the simple setting and deep, supple side of the harmonies.
Stables is a smart lyricist, using descriptive phrases as often as she repeats a simple one to bring it all together. She writes with an emotional honesty that is relatable, but a vagueness that allows listeners to imprint their own experiences. “I know what is truth,” she sings on “Riddled with Ticks,” before continuing with the promise of “and I will fight you.” Such a commanding and aggressive line is striking in a delicate acoustic setting, and exemplary of her poetic strengths.
Album closer “Solid Grease” is among the album’s most haunting tracks, with beautiful piano parts and an eerie lushness. Stables lets her voice effortlessly rise to a higher register in repeated lines, while the band let an electrified tension swell. Much like the rest of the album, it’s the kind of sound that’s tough to classify but nonetheless hits the spot for something warm, wanting and meaningful.