Releasing their sophomore effort, “Sleep Mountain” (9 March 2010 in the USA as import CD, 20 April 2010 in the USA as download), The Kissaway Trail sways more towards anthemic indie rock than post-rock, more towards the experience of an album than just a random collection of tracks. Though I could imagine some critiquing this shift in gear, to reproduce a debut album is never a good idea, usually ending in sophomore slumps. In shifting gears, “Sleep Mountain” may not get you off your feet, bouncing wall to wall in your living room, but it is full of another kind of urgency: visceral. There is an emotional undertow to all of these songs that is consistent and anxious and beautiful. This is definitely no sophomore slump!
Okay, I can take some criticism: some people may say that there is nothing really new on offer here – it has all been done before and I am unfounded. And to some degree I would agree; so much of what is out there has sonic cues to past musicians and current trendsetters. There are, however, two distinctions here, and the first is how the ingredients have been measured. Though they may have swayed away from their Sigor Rós and Sonic Youth influences and leaned more towards Arcade Fire and Flaming Lips, they are not reproducing the sound of any of these bands. Instead, they are learning what works well, and, more importantly, what doesn’t really work well. The second distinction is the visceral power the music generates. With the interplay of muttered and crisp sounds, and varying between droning, dirgeful arrangements and luscious ones, The Kissaway Trail is still able to keep a consistent undertow to the music that permeates the entire album.
Opening with the lead single, “SDP,” is a bit deceptive. This is one of two radio-friendly tracks on the album, which capitalizes on musical concepts that are unfortunately worlds away from the world of radio play. However, it is a nice way to ease the listener into the thick of the album. You are instantly, though, transported through an array of soundscapes, notably “Don’t Wake Up” and “Friendly Fire.” The tracks are back-to-back and sonically nothing alike, though both alluring with their syncopated beats. The album goes to a strange place when The Kissaway Trail covers Neil Young’s “Philadelphia.” This personally was a shocker for me, as it was not a likely cover for the band in my mind; furthermore, Young is one of those artists that if you are going to cover, you best do it well… or else! In my book, there are a few reasons to cover a song. The two main reasons are to save a great song from falling into obscurity (like Annie Lennox did with “No More “I Love You’s””) or to bring out a new dimension to a song (like Orgy did with “Blue Monday”). This is a definite case of the later; the somberness of the song has been uplifted away, and instead of warmth in the vocals there is an eerie detachment, making the lyrics sound almost existentialist.
The second radio-friendly song, “New Lipstick” immediately follows “Philadelphia,” which was a great choice in the arrangement of the tracks. The contrast in both songs just brings “New Lipstick” to life in a way that placement after another track would not have done. The shift in tone just makes you want to listen more, but soon the album anxiously treads through the last few tracks to the finale, “Three Million Hours.” And, even with the cover in the mix, it is here when you realize that this is an “album” and meant to be listened to as such, and that near hour process of listening has been cathartic. This is not to take away from the individual strength of each track, but at the end of it all it is the collective experience that etches itself into your memory. And, as I am a lover of albums, this is refreshing in a field of releases that are merely a collection of tracks that have nothing (sonically or thematically) in common.
3. New Year
4. Don’t Wake Up
5. Friendly Fire
7. Beat Your Heartbeat
9. New Lipstick
11. Three Million Hours
Keep up with The Kissaway Trail at their homepage, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here is their video for “SDP” from the yeproc YouTube Channel.