(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Recording review - KDH, Piedmont Rose (2015)

Kaleidoscopic swirl of psych pop, rich bass, and acid etched guitars


Bands don’t form in a vacuum; the best ones build on their inspirations and find their own signature voice. KDH (AKA Kill Devil Hill) come to the table with a distinctive mix of ‘60s psychedelic pop, sharp power pop, and a strong current of alternative rock. The songs on Piedmont Rose feature all of those influences, but jiggered together in a constantly shifting balance. The kaleidoscopic swirl.of styles tosses out one intriguing surprise after another, but the changes are rarely jarring. In large part, that’s due to Alex Smith’s rich bass work, which stands forward in the mix, leading the way. Smith is a relatively busy player, but his lines are tightly woven with the guitars.

It only takes four and a half minutes to become a true believer. “Beloved Devote” leads off the album and it shows just what kind of ride KDH can offer. The opening guitar strum sets up a riff lifted from The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There For You” (AKA the Friends theme), along with a hyperactive tom tom pulse. The bass jumps in with earnest and kicks Friends to the curb in favor of a mod power pop drive with the classic rock posturing of The Guess Who’s “American Woman”. Smith’s bass alternates between steady simplicity and looser excursions. The song drops back into the chorus with the title tag, “Beloved devote, Beloved devotion,” which boomerangs off into a new wave bridge that sounds like The Pretenders crossed with The White Stripes. After locking into a series of staccato chord jabs, the song cycles back into the opening riff. After all of the quick tempo punch of the first three minutes, the band finally relaxes into trippy freefall to catch their breath, but it’s a modest pause as they dive into a couple of hard rocking guitar solos to push to the end. There’s a natural flow from one moment to the next and familiar sections flash back, but the evolution of the song is more in keeping with a longer, more expansive piece.

“Time to Die” follows up with a similarly novel arrangement. It starts with some country-tinged rock guitar playing that would be right at home on The Rolling Stones’ "It’s Only Rock n Roll (But I Like It)", but soon enough it falls into a hard rocking avalanche and Smith’s bass slips into a Krautrock throb. The song will eventually run through psychedelic folk, moody rock, and acid etched guitar rock before crashing into a speedy ramp up ending. Where “Beloved Devote” had a plastic sense of genre, this tune ups the ante with strong tempo changes.

The sweetest track on Piedmont Rose is the instrumental, “Lettuce Rest (Appalachian Spring)”, which starts out with a mellow, jazzy vibe. The slow fade in wash intro reminds me a little of Copeland's piece, but that doesn't really justify the sub-title. Instead, it references other more modern songs like Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” and Alice Cooper's "Only Women Bleed". Once again, the bass is stunning with warm, open ended lines. In contrast to the earlier song arrangements, the course here is to ramp up the tempo and reiterate through the changes until it snowballs. At peak intensity, the tune falls into a repeated descending bass riff that's ornamented with broken shards of shadowy guitar klaxon. which eventually subsides into a disjointed, restive finish.

Aside from Smith’s stellar bass work, the band’s new guitarist, Ian Lockey, invigorates the album with strong contributions on the thrashing centerpiece, “Ratchets”. Long time members Drew Taylor (guitar) and Leen Hinshaw (drums) round out the group. Piedmont Rose is a testament to how well all of these guys have collaborated to create an album that never rests on a single point, but still maintains a consistent energy and tone. What pushes this up a notch is how well they transcend the scattered musical allusions they casually drop.

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