Posted in SHOFT on Wednesday 24th August 2011 at 10:08pm
A lot of the louder music I've been listening to recently has been pretty messy, ramshackle stuff. I'm not sure if it's down to the resurfacing of a rebellious streak as middle age gallops down the tracks towards me, or whether its just the fact that I've always had a weakness for a muddy mix and a buried gem of a tune? Having said that, there are now probably a few too many bands dusting off their older brother's collection of lo-fi 1990s music and mining it for ideas, and against that backdrop of a concious dumbing-down and scumming up-of guitar pop just now, arrive Trapped In Kansas. Muddy and half-finished this absolutely isn't - from the beautiful Francis Bacon inspired cover art onwards there is concious, careful design at work here, and from within the confines of a pretty traditional rock band set-up, this Glasgow based four-piece manage to arrange some epic, moving and beautifully complex music. The much disputed and fairly meaningless term 'math rock' might well arise, but there are none of its cold, soulless implications here at all. Then again, if it suggests that we're dealing with complicated, technically proficient and challenging music, then it's accurate - but the bright clean guitar sounds radiate a warmth almost never encountered in that genre.
Taking centre stage from the beginning, perhaps atypically for a band which is built around the interplay of a group of skilled musicians, is Finn LeMarinel's voice - warm and full of character which immediately hooks you into his complex lyrics. The vocal leaps and somersaults around the music, and infuses the quieter passages of these songs with depth and emotion which it's fair to say isn't always easy to achieve in this kind of work. Perfectly illustrating this is "The Mask Does Wear The Man", an echoing and glacial post-rock tinged opening, the sparse bones of which are warmed by heartfelt vocals over the solo guitar. The motif Returns later as an instrumental interlude between tracks which lends a satisfying symmetry to proceedings too. As the first track drifts away, "I Was Born" ushers in a change of mood. A recent digital single, this song exudes technical prowess and artistry. Guitar melodies tumble over each other in an effort to have their moment at the front of the mix, while tempo changes coupled with the sometimes whispered, sometimes growled vocals shift the mood of the track. Lyrically, this seems to be a refugee's tale of disconnection and dislocation, with references to "leaving behind what we've known" in the face of impending war. LeMarinel's lyrics are sometimes oblique and surreal, but are equally capable of devastating, forensic incisiveness at times.
Next up, "Stick To The Roads" is wonderfully focused pop with an infectious and exuberant chorus. My one, and to be frank, utterly pathetic and irrational issue with this EP arises here though and I'm sorry to report it's a pretty anally retentive language-geek one too. Put simply, I just can't stop hearing the repeated periphrasis in the lyrics - in other words, those flips of word order and extra syllables inserted to mark time or switch the rhyme around. This is a favourite lyrical technique in Trapped In Kansas tracks at times which generally doesn't worry me at all, but it reaches a pitch on the chorus here with the repeated refrain of "the man DOES wear the mask/the King DOES where the crown" and such like. Those extra "do" and "does" moments, though a time-honoured and valid poetic technique, feel strangely archaic and make things sound a little rushed somehow. While I feel utterly ridiculous for raising it, I guess I'm opening my own scribblings up to intensive examination too now! It's particularly irritating because otherwise I adore this track, with its bursts of melody and self-assured pop construction. You can listen to it below, and tell me what a complete post-modern idiot I'm being later....
Recovering from my frustrated academic's hissy fit, there are more robust, tougher guitar lines threaded through "Skin and Bone" but it's still sprinkled with enough melody and dramatic shifts in time and mood to utterly confound attempts to pin it down. Finn's lyrics are at their visceral best here, and it seems he is rarely more comfortable than when he is scientifically dissecting or exposing situations. Not unlike the cover painting and it's inspirations, this graphic but ultimately very human approach seems to suit this track particularly as it builds towards a crashing, epic peak. "Happiness is an Allegory, Sadness a Story" quite apart from having an intriguing title, again treads a noisier path in places - but balances this against sections of quiet, blissed-out utter loveliness. The triumph here is the choir of backing vocals and the complex drum fills which pepper the track, making the explosive choruses of "I see a black cloud over you" all the more dramatic when they finally land. The thunderous, chugging guitar ending, with it's wide-screen solo is a splendid way to bring this record to a close.
This EP presents some of the most intelligently constructed, assured guitar music I've heard for some time. It delights in it's technical skill but is never brash or showy. Most of all, the band manages to play all kinds of neat tricks with mood, colour and tempo to produce an amazingly broad sweep in just these six tracks. All this of course begs the question of what Trapped In Kansas could achieve in the space of an entire album, and I hope we get to find out soon.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.