THIS IS THE kIT
The West Country wanderer’s fourth album may be her best yet. By Graeme Thomson
ONE of the most immediate tracks on This Is The Kit’s fourth album, “By My Demon Eye” turns out to be a sweet deceiver. With its rolling melody, rippling highlife guitar line and sing-song refrain – inspired by an African folk tale, The Rabbit And The Tortoise – it has the naïve charm of a children’s playground chant. That is, until we discover that the chorus translates as: “Boil, boil, water boil/Let the liars boil!”
Such incongruity cuts to the heart of This Is The Kit. A vehicle for the songs of Kate Stables, a displaced Bristolian now residing in Paris, they are much admired by Guy Garvey, The National and Sharon Van Etten, and it’s easy to hear why. Their music is a slinky, slippery thing, forever shifting between light and dark, prettiness and abrasion, innocence and lowering psychodrama – often during the same song.
Though Stables’ roots lie in the West Country’s indie-folk scene, strumming a banjo in sensible sweaters, these days her music is a full-bodied beast, rich and rhythmic. Points of reference range from Sufjan Stevens to Can, Tony Allen to PJ Harvey. The one overt folk signifier is her voice. Coolly self-contained and very English, comparisons with Sandy Denny are, for once, far from fanciful.
A loose collective, which over the past decade has swelled from a duo to football team proportions and back, This Is The Kit currently consist of Stables alongside Rozi Plain, Jamie Whitby-Coles and Neil Smith. On Moonshine Freeze they’re aided by such notables as The National’s Aaron Dessner (who produced 2015’s Bashed Out) and John Parish, Harvey’s right-hand man. In 2008, Parish produced the first This Is The Kit LP, Krülle Bol, and returns to the hot seat here. His task was to unify and cohere. Where on previous albums Stables seemed to stand at one remove from her collaborators, This Is The Kit now sound like a band.
If Bashed Out was at times aloof and glacial, Moonshine Freeze possesses an almost trance-like intensity; dense, primal and repetitive. Drums circle, synths fuzz and throb and saxophones blow free with thrilling unruliness. When this churning disruption connects with Stables’ atmospheric lyric world, it makes for an intoxicating music. Concentric grooves come shrouded in a fairytale darkness. There’s a frequent sense of deep unease, of ancient spirits rising and shapeless creatures lurking, exposing hidden fears. On “Hotter Colder”, built around a nervy, shunting chord sequence, like a rootsier Nirvana, Stables is literally scared of her own shadow as it cuts through water.
“Blood in my mouth… blood on my boots,” sings Stables in “Two Pence Piece”, which rumbles ominously over a simple electro pulse and lowrolling electric guitar. “People want blood, and blood is what they’ve got,” she continues on “Easy On The Thieves”. “All Written Out In Numbers”, another sly, slumbering groove, promises that “one of us has to die”. In the first and final songs – the beautiful “Bulletproof” and stately “Solid Grease”, respectively – precious things lie broken. Some cryptic numerology is also at play. The title track warns of “cycles of three”; “All Written Out In Numbers” is an earth creation story in five minutes: “Nine for the nine bright shiners… Seven for the seven stars in the sky.”
When the tumult subsides, Moonshine Freeze offers stark and profound beauty. “Easy On The Thieves” is disarmingly gentle, its plucked banjo and tracked voices recalling Sufjan Stevens at his most intimate. On “Riddled With Ticks”, the memory of a perfect day spent in nature, whipped by wind and sea, is brought wonderfully alive. In contrast, “Show Me So” is quietly sorrowful, with its pattering electric guitar and Stables’ recalling “the vomiting, the heat in your skin, the shock soaking in”.
Now signed to Rough Trade, with at Shepherd’s Bush Empire show to come in September, This Is The Kit are making significant moves. Moonshine Freeze is an impressive conduit for their upward trajectory. On “Bulletproof”, Stables sings, “There are things to learn here, Kate.” She’s not wrong.