Kylesa, Spiral Shadow

Me, via The Soda Shop:

I can, of course, not explain so much as excuse my actions in approaching Kylesa’s latest, Spiral Shadow, in an expectant manner; that is, assuming what I should/ would hear– Kylesa have consistently, subtly changed their sound with each record, and this is no different.

So I’ll reflect on the music’s musings with two minds: one, what I expected to hear, two, what I did hear. With, perhaps unnaturally, my resultant feelings and recommendations from either mindset.

First, this is disappointing.

Kylesa’s previous LP, Static Tensions, was in heavy rotation and consideration of mine often and for long; I was thrilled with the chance to hear their newest.

Let me orchestrate my feelings of disappointment in context: I love nearly all music. A check of my iTunes reveals 34 different genres in my library, from rap to showtunes to blues to black metal.

There is one genre, and only one, I stay away from– “alternative.”

Musicians generally classified as alternative (whatever that actually means) don’t seem to believe in anything. At its worst, alternative to me means cutesy “ironic” names, and hipsters who can’t be bothered admit what they believe, what moves them, what gets them going– or if they believe anything at all.

For comparison, take what I call “real” country music– not Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, etc., but Hank III, or Shooter Jennings. I’m not particularly keen on their music, but I respect them– they say what they mean. I dig that.

“Alternative” music often seems to take pride in never meaning anything. Even “Weird” Al believes in stuff. It’s just nerdy stuff.

Which brings us back to first reactions to Spiral Shadow. During initial listens, Kylesa have definitely softened their sound, almost to “pop” on several tracks– many songs wouldn’t have been out of place on MTV’s 120 Minutes years ago. “Don’t look back” sounds like a bland foo fighters song done by a cover band, and “Distance closing in” is bored, stiff and uninspired. It drudges. “Back and forth” sounds like Descendents or Fugazi (take that as you will), and “Drop out” has nice riff, but only works when Laura Pleasants sings; otherwise it’s rote and stiff.

After reinterpreting what Kylesa is now, or is trying to be, the “alternative” flavor is still present, but there are some surprisingly winning tracks: “To forget” sounds like The Cure covering Australasia-era Pelican (and works), and my favorite track, “Dust,” is barely even a rock song, but it’s good: soft and breathy, it sounds like The Church, of all bands.

Many people dislike Kylesa’s two-drummer setup, but I like the resulting tribal feel; I would never have said two drummers would work and not sound like noise or needless complication (even John Coltrane had trouble making that setup work), but work it does.

So yeah– nothing rips like “Scapegoat” from Static Tensions. But kudos to Kylesa for pushing boundaries and evolving. Even if they’re rarely successful here.





(Thanks to guest pseudonym W. Self.)


  1. I hear ya. I seem to be in the minority on this one, a bit at least. Though the more I listen to it (and forget my preconceived notions about Kylesa), it seems to get a bit better. It’s a hard thing sometimes to separate my feelings about how a band should sound versus how they actually do. (Case in point: the new Electric Wizard– is it good, or is it good for EW?) Anyway, thanks for the mind-opening. Listening to the two as reflections of each other, like you said, might bring out the “flavor” so to speak, of Spiral Shadow.

  2. I respect your argument but disagree. I too was initially disappointed after hammering Static Tensions but this one’s a real grower. The spacey effects (thanks to a reggae band leaving behind some pedals in the studio apparently) and slow builds really work for me. I think the two albums complement each other. That said, I hope they bring back the crust/hardcore influences a bit more next time. Nice blog btw – I’ll be reading regularly from now on.

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