malleus&incus

This is What Happens: An Album Review

Posted in Indie, Jazz, Record Review by jurbanik on August 14, 2010

Those of you who have been following malleus&incus know by now that I’ve been planning on reviewing The Reign of Kindo’s new album, This is What Happens, for quite a while now. I hinted in my chiptune post that the review was coming soon, and much earlier on mentioned that I was anticipating the album to be one of my favorites of the year (in my post on indie jazz).

The Reign of Kindo live

The other day, I sat and listened through all of the This Day & Age songs I have, every single released The Reign of Kindo album/ep in chronological order, and Jeff Martin and Steve Padin’s album ‘The First Joke & Other Matters.’ I’ve waited several weeks and several listens before attempting to tackle judging this album, and yet I still don’t feel qualified to have a real opinion. Part of the problem is that the album keeps growing and morphing on me as I notice different subtleties, part of it is that I just don’t feel a little biased. But as it is, I’m tired of waiting, and I’ve finally decided ‘well, the time for a review is… now.’

Don’t expect this review to be track by track like my review of The MashoChist – I don’t think Joey, Steve, Kelly (or Danny, now), Michael, or Jeffrey would really appreciate me putting up all of their tracks somewhere where you can easily download. If you want to listen through the album, the guys have been gracious enough to use some clever YouTube linkage to let you listen to every song. But honestly, just buy the album, it is worth it.

Earlier, I made the claim that this might be album of the year for me. I’m still not sure, though – I’ll revisit at the end of the year. The record is still growing on me, and while it might soon be my most played album of the year, there have been some albums this year that might just bring that little extra bit new to the scene. I’ve heard two main complaints about This is What Happens: either that they’ve lost the prog-rock edge they had Rhythm Chord & Melody, or that they haven’t changed enough. I certainly don’t get the first complaint – on my first play through, I was shocked at how much they seemed to have changed. ‘Soon It Shall Be’ sounds a little more like music from a french cafe blended with Yann Tiersen than it does the jams heard on their eponymous EP. As I’ve given the album a few more listens, I’ve realized this change is what comes with a more mature The Reign of Kindo – they still have the loud, furious jams like the opener, ‘Thrill of the Fall,’ but they’ve learned to make better use of negative space and have diversified their styling. The songs are driven less by melodic guitar and more by subdued piano and richer vocals. I would describe many of the songs on the album as elegant or beautiful, tending away from the mind-boggling complexity of their old compositions.

This Is What Happens Album Cover

Overall, I would say that the album has a much more urban feel than TRoK’s previous efforts. This metropolitan focus captures some of the most beautiful city moments I could imagine. Whether it be moonlit cafes or the distant city lights, TRoK captures the municipal scenes in a way that keeps me enraptured to a degree even greater than Sufjan Steven’s Wes Anderson-esque depiction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway or Phillip Glass’ contributions to Koyaanisqatsi.

Flowers By the Moon

I want this song to play on the next dinner date I go on. “Tell me darling// Have we witnessed beauty’s gleaming?” The vocals in this track are some of the simplest in TRoK’s songs. If I’m not mistaken, only two vocal tracks are used – but this just adds to the romantic feel. The instrumentation and the lyrics perfectly paint a picture of a night at a cafe in a tropical city under bright moonlight – a scene that must be as fantastic for the Buffalo, NY natives as the girls that the group will inevitably woo with this track.

City Lights and Traffic Sounds

The narrative in this song is amazing. Very sparsely populated with lyrics, the band oohs and ahs their way through a masterfully painted anecdote. The simple words approach cliches on their own, but mesh together in a way that is completely unique. Two old lovers meet while waltzing through the background, one picks the other out hoping to patch things together, but there are still too many emotions and too much has changed. There isn’t one standout line, and the entire situation sounds like something out of an emo song – but there is something purely romantic about it, and TRoK make it work.

Bullets in the Air

While the song title certainly fits the lyrics sensibly (as is true of most TRoK songs), the sonic qualities of this song almost fit in better with the previous title. The discordance of the horns section and frantic descending piano scales remind me of a more stylized version of the traffic noises that reach your ears on a typical busy city street. On the other hands, these sections are interlaced with the complete opposite – the band jumps between tempos, key signatures, and just about every musical quality within the matter of seconds and still manages to pull it off smoothly. These softer sections bring to mind the mellow lambency of a streetlight or distant collection of lights seen through a soft focus filter, seen through droplets of rain, or even through your own eyes right after waking up – things are soft and warm, and nothing at all seems foreboding. Interestingly enough, almost all of the destructive and portentous lyrics come within these sections; Joey sings “There’s a storm inside your mind// Lightning never chooses where it will strike// But it can burn a bridge right to the ground” at one of the most peaceful moments in the song. For some reason this homospatiality brings to mind the dualism of some The Wall era Pink Floyd, a comparison that might be a little dangerous, but I’m willing to make.

Nightingale

This is The Reign of Kindo at their best. The lyricism in this song is brilliant, and the way the instruments and voice tie together is just brilliant Secchiaroli bellows “If I could muster a sound I’d sing this song out loud just like a Nightingale” in the chorus. The band continuously mentions how he they can’t make a sound while simultaneously producing complex orchestration – the drums fade in and out atmospherically, the instruments change tempos independently of one another, and switch time signatures in a highly jazzy fashion – this irony leaves the listener wondering what the actual mindset is in reference to the girl. This interpretation of the song gives an almost jaded feel to the line “If I could die// You bet your life I would,” remarking that everyone dies, but possibly hides some more aggressive thoughts behind it, as he says the line with a hint of sadistic joy. The music itself is a total jam – it’ll get stuck in your head.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Arguably the best track on the album, TRoK takes a pretty common idiom and their urban soundscape theme, fuses them together with some clever lyricism and comes out with a masterpiece. Djembe drums and latin-influenced vocals hooks make this have a bit of a ‘world music’ sound, while the band seems to have the optimal formula for making staying in bed seem exciting. A character looks out of their city window to see busy cars and busier people, stays in bed, and seals himself off from the external world. That is all there is to it, but somehow verses like “Seems we’ve all gone lost at sea without a compass// Yielding to the winds that blow into our sails” get tied in and create extremely vivid imagery. The loose rhyme scheme and rhythm give it an almost a poetic feel, but at the same time, this song shows off some of the most improvisational jazzy guitar, drums, and piano on the album. Ornamentation is almost omnipresent – you can tell the guys are having a lot of fun with this one, and the result is absolutely stunning.

Honestly, you need to listen to the album. Me picking out a few more songs for you to listen to won’t do much – you need to listen all the way through. Whether it be the intrepid jazz riffs of Thrill of the Fall, the purely chill-inducing swells of Blistered Hands, or the inexplicable despondency of Psalm, the album keeps you engaged. One turn off the album might provide for some people is that the album almost makes it feel as if the band is courting you – most of the songs are romantic stories or quixotic inquiries. But honestly, I don’t mind. It goes without saying that the album is distinctly theirs style, and I seriously become more impressed every time I listen. What the album may lack in technicality (as compared to previous material, not other bands), it makes up in charm and classiness.

9.3/10

Check out a review by Matthew Tsai if you want to see the opinion of someone who can write better than me. On another note, those who might be a little more familiar with TRoK may be interested to know that Kelly Sciandra left the band after this record, but that Danny Pizarro has been picked up already – he shows off what he’s got in the recently uploaded video of Flowers by the Moon. Finally, if you liked what you saw in my 8bit post, check out the sister album to This is What Happens – This is Also What Happens, a set of 8bit covers of all of the songs. Its pretty awesome. For a sample of what it might sound like, here is the remix of Needle & Thread (off the The Reign of Kindo EP) from the Japanese Edition of This is What Happens – I found it floating around on the web.

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  1. Oh Connecticut « malleus&incus said, on August 16, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    […] another album, Getting Used to Isolation, via CandyRat (see, told you the label would come up again and again). His first effort was impressive technically, but seemed a little braggadocio at times […]


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