Album Review: This Is The Kit – Moonshine Freeze (Rough Trade Records)

Fun and games in the dark

This Is the Kit’s songwriter Kate Stables has figured out that the best way for her to process the world around us is to put her feelings into song. Not in a literal way, you might be relieved to hear that there is no mention of politics or politicians here, but in an expressive and questioning fashion that gives the songs a warm, earthy even pastoral feel much of the time. This Is the Kit is no Johnny come lately, they have four albums under their collective belt and each member has developed solo careers as a result, so getting them all in one place is apparently not that straight forward. On this occasion they did so in the company of John Parrish whose production skills have graced work by PJ Harvey among others. He worked with TItK on their debut and it was felt that it would be a good time to repeat the cycle. The band’s core consists of Stables on vocals, banjo and guitar, Jamie Whitby-Coles on drums, Rozi Plain on bass, Neil Smith on guitar and long time ally Jesse D Vernon on guitar, percussion and keys. All but Smith also contribute backing vocals which results in some beautiful harmonies throughout Moonshine Freeze.

Special guests on this album include Aaron Dessner of The National who also worked with them on the last album Bashed Out, Rachel Dad and Emily Stables on vocals. Vincent Mougel provides keys of many flavours and the producer adds drums, piano and bass. It’s the sort of line up that might make a lot of noise, but rather like Lambchop none of these songs are instrumentally dense. They usually have voice and guitar with maybe some drums in front of a rich but indistinct backdrop of sounds that ebb and flow without making any clear impact. What they do is provide the atmosphere to Stables’ elliptic but charmed songwriting.

The opener Bullet Proof is one of two more downbeat songs on the album, its meaning is not clear but it is disturbing albeit not as spooky as one of the strongest tunes on here, Hotter Colder. This like other songs refers to a children’s game but conjures up spirits from another world. It’s illuminated by short but sweet flamenco riffs and ends with guitar and sax in crescendo. The title track has a José Gonzalez vibe, mainly as a result of the voice, the gem here is the short backwards guitar and vibes bridge, but the overlapping voice on the chorus is also lovely. I also like the line “What a proper pair of Charlies” on Easy on the Thieves where the chorus is a three part harmony over a plucked banjo. The killer track has to be Show Me So, it’s the other sad song on the album so is unlikely to light up the charts, but it has a beauty and depth that transcends the words and sounds that make it up.

This Is the Kit have an honesty and fragility that makes you want to hug them, but this is not miserable music, it’s just open in the way that Nick Drake was. And you can’t do much better than that.

– Jason Kennedy

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