By Phil Scarisbrick
Under the ashen clouds of Cymru, This is The Kit has reconciled the anxiety and panic that flows through her lyrics – with flowing melodies illuminating her words with a beauty that only partially masks the fragility of what lies underneath
In the press release for the album, This Is The Kit frontwoman, Kate Stables, talks about the prevalence of water around the rehearsal space they used in Wales to mould Off Off On. From the ‘rushing, torrent-y river’ that sat beside the studio to the kaleidoscopic nature of the native Welsh weather, this atmosphere helped focus the musicians while crafting the fifth This Is The Kit long player.
As I sit and listen to this record, the light patter of rain is bouncing off the window beside me in my end terrace house on the north coast of the principality. Water also surrounds my Welsh experience, with a river half a mile to my west, and the Irish Sea on my doorstep. When we get precipitation, it never rains but it pours – quite literally. The way that their surroundings seeped into the music of Off Off On makes perfect sense to me, and is apparent right from the opening bars of Found Out. The finger picked guitar and rolling drums flow like a bursting dam – ever building in intensity throughout. Constantly threatening to burst into a deluge, it instead offers a more restrained, stylish dynamic, before transitioning into Started Again. Trickling along with stabbing, yet light rhythms under Stables’ vocal, it shares the same feeling of hushed restraint as the instrumentation.
Produced by Bonny Light Horseman’s Josh Kaufman – a man who seemingly never has a day off given the output he’s been involved in recently – the sound palette throughout is a nuanced, yet cohesive blend of styles that keeps the listener engaged. Coming to get you Nowhere’s brass-led grooves knit seamlessly with Carry Us Please’s sparse, rhythmic guitar picks. The latter transforms from this elegantly subtle sound into a free jazz explosion that never lets up until its conclusion. Shinbone Soup is a highlight, with a mellow acoustic guitar and vocal given a sense of urgency by light wraps of a hi-hat. Stables sings of vampiric images haunting her mind, as the mix of beautiful melody and anxiety-fuelled lyrics combine for a gloriously understated folk number.
After appearing on their last album, I Am Easy To Find, and then touring with The National, it was intriguing to see if their brand of indie managed to infiltrate Stables’ writing. The nearest we get on this record is the closer, Keep Going. While following the same looping guitar pattern style that features throughout the rest of the album, the song subtly builds over the whole six-and-a-half minutes, with Stables’ lilting vocal often hanging on the very last millisecond of each beat in the same way that makes Matt Berninger’s melodies so engaging. While there are hallmarks of the Cincinnati quintet’s work here though, it is never anything but a This Is The Kit song.
Under the ashen clouds of Cymru, This is The Kit has reconciled the anxiety and panic that flows through her lyrics – with flowing melodies illuminating her words with a beauty that only partially masks the fragility of what lies underneath. Paddling through a stream of neuroses and challenges, each fork in the river offers paths to unknown destinations, persevering regardless. Lead single, This Is What You Get, is emblematic of these seismic glitches in life, with its sonic embodiment of the ‘night-time mind race and morning day dread’, as Stables puts it.
Surrounding any body of water is always the potential for peril – to be consumed by it, and to fade from sight. There is also the potential for life though: beautiful, varied, resplendent life. This is where the band and Stables’ writing really captured their surroundings. While there will always be things that make life hard, there will also always be things that make life wonderful. Off Off On manages to capture both.
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