or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
I suppose it all depends on how far you want to push your definition of what pop music is and isn’t. KaitO approach the problem with hooks, lots and lots of hooks, which by most people’s definitions are A Good Thing. It’s the way they proceed to assemble those hooks that might bring about problems.
The KaitO sound is that of being drunk on very dodgy vodka. Not beer or lager, cos they’re too slow and dull. Not whisky or bourbon, cos they’re far too cool. Wine’s too classy, schnapps don’t spread far enough—it’s vodka, big, ugly, scratchy, woody, acrid vodka. KaitO are the kind of band to go spinning into walls for, making the kind of music that grabs you by the arm and yells “Why aren’t you DAAAANCING come ON we’re all DAAAANCING COME ON WHOO SONIC YOUTH! WHOO! SHAKE IT!” I want to build discotheques for people to dance to KaitO in, huge monuments of taking jerkiness and speed and girl groupery beyond their logical conclusions, of having the blueprint for perfect pop but leaving it on the bus and trying to construct it from memory instead.
The thing about KaitO is I want to write about them having ‘perfect pop songs’, despite the fact that they obviously don’t. Pop requires some degree of style, does it not? Panache, elegance, blinding skill. Girls Aloud, Rachel Stevens, Saint Etienne, Annie—these people would probably not want to be associated with KaitO, because, aside from Nikki Colk having quite easily one of the greatest fringes ever, KaitO are not flair players. KaitO take the raw elements, make them rawer, and then tie them to Nikki Colk’s voice. Everything she sings sounds like it’s being slurred through tinfoil braces, interspersed with whoops, yelps and sighs. She comes out with lyrics like “If you think I’m sulking then I’m telling on you” (at least, that’s what it sounds like) and song titles like “A.S.A. To Accuracy,” “Good Is Good,” “Rockstuff,” “Driving Manual Auto,” and “Catnap.” It’s enough to make an awful lot of people’s blood boil… yet not mine, somehow.
Cos then there’s the fact that KaitO’s songs are dense, taut and intricately plotted. They make noises like you’d never believe. “Shoot Shoot,” for instance, has this incredible intro that sounds like someone skidding across an echo chamber in squash shoes, then the band slowly peel away from each other, a guitar loop furling and unfurling over and over. “Should I” could be described as what Le Tigre’s “T.K.O.” would be if excised of all the shit bits (coincidentally, this would also make the two exactly the same length), and “A.S.A. To Accuracy” is how the Raveonettes would be if relieved of all obligation to be cool and avoid singing in anything beyond a drawl—it feels like joyriding in a Ford Sierra that’s due for the scrapheap, coursing through endless tunnels, bridges and underpasses, leaving all braking to the last moment, not lithe or sinuous or supple but just fast, tense, edgy, every move being a sudden, violent swerve, culminating in flipping the car on its roof and letting it roll back onto its wheels, slowly. Then executing a handbrake turn and doing it all over again.
It’s those hooks, too—the lyrics are by and large indecipherable, just chunks of fizz and fuzz, but fizz and fuzz with incredible cadence. You can’t hear words, but you can hear sounds, and they stick hard. Colk’s voice is slurry and mannered but hugely addictive, complemented by the huge bank of pedals the guitars run off, turning them into quick-fingered nerve bombs then echo-heavy vacuums, then huge crashing slabs of feedback and heftiness—“?” is the sound of melting down against the wall, letting the atmosphere crush you as you slump, closing your eyes and swaying along.
Then there’s the bits where they shout, like in “Go,” when the guitars swell and wobble, then just as they peak there comes the yell—“GAOW!!!” The timing and the build-up is exquisite, the release just so immaculate that it demands to be yelled along to, demands because, dammit, THERE IS NO OTHER ACCEPTABLE COURSE OF ACTION. KaitO’s noises are so lacking in social skills that they become great fun to just move and bellow along too, and it is perhaps with this that I realise just why I love them so much—it is impossible to dance well to KaitO. As tightly orchestrated and played as their music is, choreographing it is hell. You get noise. You get it quickly, too quickly to handle. This music can only be danced to by Leaping Up And Down or Shuffling Frantically, as our friends from East Anglia create the soundtrack for your limbs to forget they ever knew each other, then the comedown songs to let them try and crawl back into place.
KaitO are what happens when you try and make pop records but don’t have anyone to tell you that you’re fucking up. KaitO, in short, could never record “Negotiate With Love.” And for that, let us be thankful.