THIS IS THE kIT

Moonshine Freeze

UNCUT - - New Albums -

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.

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