Down Below It’s Chaos
here was a time in my narrow-minded youth when I was quoted as saying things like, “If an album has vocals I probably don’t like it that much.” Seattle quartet Kinski’s latest release Down Below It’s Chaos, a disc showered with guitars and straightforward percussion, probably would’ve appeased this much younger and pompous version of myself. Using vocals sparingly, Kinski attempt to fit into the post-rock idiom alongside the likes of Explosions in the Sky and, to a lesser extent, the Constellation Records troupe. But as these artists rely heavily on improvisation and seemingly endless crescendos, Kinski’s penchant for song construction a la Sonic Youth taints their sound with an unfortunate banality.
Unable to decide what direction to ultimately pursue on Down Below, the tracks seem split between two groups: those with and those without vocals, though twice as many of the latter ultimately appear. Luckily, it becomes clear shortly into the disc that Kinski functions better—slightly—when they leave the vocals by the wayside. The interweaving guitars, inaudible cum overbearing percussion, and soft-spoken leads are all present on the instrumental tracks but the theatrics that make these sorts of songs powerful are completely lacking.
Album opener “Crybaby Blowout” sounds like a Queens of the Stoneage instrumental. Distorted and perpetually grinding, the guitars sound like a running water faucet while the shrill cries of the lead cut through the song’s pounding drums. “Boy, Was I Mad,” though boasting longer buildups and a grander, more epic sound than “Blowout,” quickly devolves likewise into a structured, muddied metalfest, lacking the gilded shine of similar songs by more proficient artists. These tracks want to go somewhere, but caged by a lack of ambience and smothered by constant 4/4 riffs, they drag as Kinski hammers away. In the hands of a like-minded vocalist, these could easily be solid rock songs. Instead, they seem out of place and aloof.
Unfortunately, Down Below closes just as Kinski finds their sound. “Silent Biker Type” is the best track here, an example of a situation where the band allows a song to breathe and expand as it pleases. It floats along on cymbal taps and phasing guitars before horrified shrieks of feedback enter into the mix. Crucially, though, Kinski never tries to do too much, allowing the song to fade before launching into their typical headbanging scheme.
If Kinski stuck to this model, they would’ve found themselves among various post-rock staples, but as it stands, Down Below It’s Chaos drips with underachievement. Without being able to define their schizophrenic style, the wafts of excellence are overpowered by an inability to recognize them. Kinski has it in them, but, then again, it would appear they have a lot in them.