Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kitchen's Floor-Bitter Defeat 7" EP (2012)

"All his days are about the same. He wakes up at 11 or 12, watches TV, reads the paper, looks out the front door...usually he falls asleep about 2 am. He likes to sleep. Sometimes he has good dreams."-Characters in Richard Linklater's Slackers

I took awhile to review this EP because it's my favorite record of the year, and it's taken awhile to think it through to some sort of clarity. That doesn't mean I have anything intelligent to say about it, but it does mean I've digested Kitchen's Floor's latest in a way I haven't with most records I review for this pissant blog. This thing matters, and that's why this review is so long.

 All of Kitchen's Floor's previous material is condensed, fragmentary, and complete within its narrow confines in a way that's rare in pop music: most of Matt Kennedy's songs are over in a minute and a half. "Lander," for example, the standout track from Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress, flys by in 1:38. And it has all best elements of pop music with a heart: a ragged, catchy guitar line; hollered, impassioned choruses that sound apathetically desperate; and the rare good sense to cut short instead of dawdling too long. Kennedy's lyrics are almost autistic in their terse refusal to explain a situation, and it's this refusal to draw out an emotion that makes them so fucking good at capturing just the sort of frustration you're feeling when stumbling around, blackout drunk, alone and forsaken, at 3 am in a foreign town.

The point of all this is that the Bitter Defeat EP came as a surprise and a departure from its predecessors. First of all, the songs here unfold and develop instead of rushing past you. Each one shows a sense of careful construction and nuanced phrasing that was missing, or displayed differently, on previous KF releases. Kennedy draws on a different pool of musicians for almost every release, and this one finds him drafting fellow Brisbane scene vets Bobby Bot on drums and Andrew McLellan of Cured Pink on organ. The alternate versions of "Bitter Defeat" and "Down" were slated as the A-sides, before the death of Brendon Annesley (of Negative Guest List 'zine and Meat Thump fame) threw a lot of people I respect into a tailspin. Kennedy re-configured these two songs as a purgative; in a recent interview, he said that "It's more depressive [than the 2011 LP, Look Forward to Nothing] as it was recorded during the worst period of my life."

The numb paralysis and horrible inertia of learning that someone you love is dead saturates this record. Watch the video for "Bitter Defeat" to understand what I mean. The video was shot at 116 in Paddington, the site of innumerable KF shows and the scene for their best music videos; the genteel squalor was just right for their previous music. On "Bitter Defeat," it's the site of a wake: in the first shot of the band, Kennedy and McLellan resolutely focus on their instruments, ignoring the camera. Kennedy stumbles around the backyard, guzzling cheap wine. Bobby Bot looks off into the distance, showing not a trace of emotion, pounding away a funereal beat. Kennedy slowly backwalks away from the camera, staring the viewer down; McLellan twitches and slams into mattresses, the only trace of life in him besides his organ notes. The video is a study in the sort of crippling apathy that can lead to moments of genius, and I'll go out on a limb and call this EP that. As the video ends, Kennedy sits alone, in near-dark, drinking a beer. He may be defeated, but he still woke up the next morning and wrote this song. What have you (what have I) done that's better than that?

 But what about the music, asshole? Is what yr sayin'. The truncated garage glory of previous KF material is gone, replaced by a somber marching beat and death-dirge organ. Kennedy has always sounded apathetic, in an endearing way; now, he sounds like an animate corpse. Sometimes, after a particularly rough week, people at work ask me how I'm doing; the answer is a hollow croak, "I'm fine," that means exactly the opposite of those words. Kennedy's stiff, passionless delivery does the same job. "It's bitter defeat.....the open...": the pacing is as slow as the ellipses in between those words.
I got this record without reading reviews, and was expecting rambunctious jangle pop; it got me so depressed I downed a bunch of Xanax, drank two bottles of wine, and spent the rest of the evening listening to the EP over and over again. Best evening of the last three months, kiddies. "Down" is almost identical structurally and instrumentally to "Bitter Defeat." Over a more articulate organ and plodding drums, Kennedy dictates the glacial inability to act that I think is pretty fucking common these days, personal problems aside: "Looking down at the fucking ground/I'm sick of looking down this street/I have nothing to give/and they won't even think about me..."

The alternate versions of "Bitter Defeat" and "Down," as a much more cogent and intelligent review, quoted above, notes, are like the dawn of day after the utter night of the A-sides: they're just as bleak and bitter as the first versions, but there's a real sense of hope that pierces through the gloom. In some ways, they're better songs: more dynamic, more expressive. Listen to them in conjunction with the A-sides, though, and they're a perfect complement. "Pasta" is a self-indulgent slice of noise I can only listen to while bicycling; it's a let down after the catharsis of the first four songs.

Listen to the EP here. Fundamentally, a lot of the reason I love Kitchen's Floor, and especially this EP, involves what probably killed Annesley, Bangs, and far too many of the people whose writing or music I admire the most. It expresses the bitter inertia that afflicts us all from time to time. I'm usually pretty disgusted with myself, how I live my life, and my own inability to find anything that interests me enough to get out of bed in the morning. But Kennedy's work hints at what keeps me going: that maybe, despite everything, I have something to share with the rest of you. I dunno, find out for yourself. And if you hate it? If you think that what I just wrote is a grey puddle of self-indulgent shit? Well, fuck off and do it yerself! That's the logic in the "Slacker" lines I quoted as an introduction. If you feel crippled by the utter meaningless of life, no one's gonna start something new for you. Get off your ass and make things happen, chucklehead. Soon it might be too late.

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