isclaimers are the last thing that you want to read before embarking on reading a record review. They’re silly, usually pointless, and reveal a complete lack of professionalism on the part of the writer. If we were really doing our job, we wouldn’t need them at all. Most print magazines don’t bother to use them, but that’s because they’re professionals and can look past the sometimes incestuous business and personal alliances that creep up in their brand of hype mongering. This isn’t that sort of disclaimer, though. I don’t know Kepler. But I do love them.
Which I think is an important disclaimer to share because I don’t know if anyone else loves them. Or, for that matter, should love them. It’s just they’re one of those types of bands: the type that sounds so personal that you begin to question their actual quality. Is it that they just strike so deeply that they transcend any sort of critical distance? Or is it that they strike so deeply their inherent quality? Does it even matter? So, to sum it up: I’m not sure that Kepler is great at what they do in the genre that they inhabit. And I’m not sure where Attic Salt falls on some sort of personal ranked listing of their releases. And I’m definitely not sure what other people make of this band that don’t already love them. But I have been converted. And that’s enough for me.
Attic Salt is the band’s third album after their also Troubleman Unlimited released Fuck Fight Fail (the slo-core debut masterpiece that evoked both Low and Mogwai in equal measure) and Missionless Days (a country-soaked album that grew with each listen). Attic Salt takes after its most recent predecessor in that the country-rock influences hang heavily over the proceedings: lap-steel, a lumbering backbeat, and despondent minor keys all play prominent roles thoughout. The latter two elements, in conjunction with bassist/singer’s Samir Khan hushed croon, also contribute to the vestigal slo-core sounds that continue to inform the group’s sound as well.
This is, of course, all in spite of the fact that the group’s line-up has turned over nearly completely since the last time out. Losing drummer Jeremy Gara to The Arcade Fire after completing work on the album, the group (then consisting merely of Jon Georgekish-Watt and Khan) recruited a number of local musicians—Mike Feuerstack, Jordy Walker and Mike Dubueto—to help out and, eventually, join the band. Despite the fact that they know make up a majority share of the membership, the record is still defiantly a Kepler one. Each of their contributions seems to be in deference to the feel that Kepler has cultivated throughout its history, except now the sound is fuller and, for lack of a better word, heftier.
There are important changes, though. On album highlight “The National Epithet,” we have back-up vocals cooing along with Khan adding a soul feel to the already upbeat, interlocking guitar and organ work that is finally overtaken by a powerful drone by song’s end. “Days of Begging” and “Broken Bottle Blackened Hearts” recall the band’s earlier records, though, in the former’s case an almost bluesy guitar solo takes over for a moment—something that never would have happened in their earlier days when it seemed that every note was a sacred gift. “You Must Admit,” conversely is a bar-room lament that uses the same sort of wordless vocalizing to fill in the pre-bridge in an unexpected manner.
But if there’s anything that’s unexpected, it’s the fact that Kepler has done the dreaded thing and actually matured as a band. Whereas Fuck Fight Fail was a two-note record (Loud. And a whole lot of soft.) and Missionless Days was equally as static (Country-rock that played it pretty much by the numbers), Attic Salt combines both elements ably and strikes out in important new directions, so much so that the band is considering changing its name. Whatever that name is, I’ll be listening.