To Walk a Middle Course
ylesa, with a sonic palate that plates the rawness of early Amp-Rep with a tendency towards expansive and fluctuating post-rock inspired non-linearity, has spoken some true thunder words in the wake of genre too dead to awake. Hardcore? Crust? Emo?—Screamo? Buzz-words deliver their prankish handshake for only a while; eventually the gag returns with a retch and one’s left standing in a pool of poorly realized critical argot. Quips aside, a band’s background can provide fertile fodder, just as an assisted-living facility’s cafeteria always provides some soupy muzak for elders to sip soup to. Biotic factors have even come into the courts; they’ve been ham-fistedly typed into philosophies, psychologies, and tourism brochures. Their implorations enjoy one of those precarious balancing acts that can be simultaneously read and understood as healthy and injurious: Come visit beautiful ___.
Savannah? Southern subterranean novitiates beware; this is not the sybaritic locus for green’d beer, jejune brawls; febrile, awkward sex in River Walk margins. It is also not the confected and contrived drawl done so poorly by those thinking they understood the wraiths that rose from the garden of good and evil. This coastal Georgia city posits some baffling bifurcation; like most “tourist spots” this one is a perfect study in dichotomy. The same streets that welcome fat wallets for a taste of the “authentic” propitiate also fill with trash, masses of mosquitoes, bands of occlusive youth blackened, safety-pinned, and gutter’d—carried to the trough as thoroughfare is available only for those who gleefully play Free Market: The Game.
The types of bands that burgeon from the types of places like Savannah are easily tossed into the “product of ___” bin, where music journalism draws so much of its tiresome taxonomy. To be fair, a lot of the music that’s pigeonholed as conditioned-by-environment-x deserves to be dealt with in such fashion: It’s just as boring as the lifeless critique that it provokes. Most of the bands offering (Kleinean) social commentary always eschew that which is most important: A solution.
Slick “counter-culture” mag Adbusters is a case in point. Itself being an “anti-consumerist” magazine that preens to a target audience of consumers who think buying organic apples from Whole Foods is an example of subversive activity. And, of course, Adbusters offers as much “political” or “issue” related ephemera for sale as every other catalog that manages to find its way into the nuclear family’s mailbox. Realizing this brings some super-sized despair: Who or what will fell the façade? Who will drain the swamp of its liquid sickness that seems to wash the brains of the great innumerable?
These questions are admittedly just as tedious as the malignant mediums that pretend to question policy’s invisible infrastructure—which is why a band like Kylesa comes across in such an incredibly powerful way. Kylesa can’t free itself of the world it screams in and about; it can—and does—offer an anthem as a begreased proletarian would offer a torch. No surprise: Kylesa comes from impeccable sonic pedigree, boasting members from the corrosive Savannah outfit Damad that pioneered the notion of hardcore as multivalent song structure way before high school bad boys donned Neurosis tees and bullet belts.
The songs on To Walk a Middle Course are antiphonal, responsive psalms to those who’ve been counseled by corporate imposters bringing the federally minted gospel; this is music that covers a lot of territory quickly and convincingly: Black Flag’s Damaged, the confrontational ennui of early Fugazi, and the volume empowered realm of Roots era Sepultura, where lore, belief, and brawn produced a compelling admixture are all touched on. Notably, all aural analogues share the same sinewy, coruscant guitar work, an aspect that Kylesa holds to, and even improves upon.
Guitars cut through brisant song structures; cascading, tube-screaming lines vector through a filled slate; what’s left is a jagged and rapturous mess. Drums convolve around bass lines that fall like skies and rise up like mists. Vocals come in an anodized shriek, shouting down the hypocritical horde blaring its anomic horn. When everything locks into place, Kylesa is a taut, annular beast. The track “Phantom Crawl” provides ready example, with its vast opening redolent of Isis’ contemplative side; slowly progressing into an anguished guitar attack that nearly outdoes the muscular string-work of extreme outfit Converge.
The Appearance v. Reality thematic gets a most able exposition courtesy of Kylesa: The notion isn’t just delineated; it’s nailed into the display windows of every shopping district, its cerise letters flowing into a river that would dare not hold the mayor’s green. In a way, Savannah exists to embrace its narcotized tourists, those supernaturally reanimated by QVC and Rovean aphorism. And even though the streets continue to hold Hummers festooned with canary colored magnets, those that helm the exurban chariots are deaf to the song that weaves around them. Where Kylesa doesn’t overtly posit a solution for the ills they sing to, they most certainly provide an appropriate soundtrack.
As music journalists scramble for the keys to classification’s cage, Kylesa sings about the cage that encloses us all. Those comfortable within its framework will continue to enjoy its support; those rattling the bars will rejoice that they now have the sounds to show them the way out.