3 out of 5
Label: Brutal Panda
Produced by: Scott Evans (recorded by)
With a minimalist, post-rock sludge approach that brings to mind a crossroads of classic Touch and Go hard rock and some Hydra Head-related group that Kurt Ballou’s has produced, I immediately like Kowloon Walled City… and then also find myself puzzled as to why rarely any moments on Container Ships, their 2012 release, resonates in any particular fashion.
That crossroads is something of an indication – a case of a group sounding like a bunch of other groups, while maybe not stumbling across an identity of their own. This lends itself to what’s essentially restraint, with the music never quite indulging one way or another, neither being especially stripped down or heavy, hardcore melodic or chaotic, noisy or grooving. The production even sounds like a half-step between Steve Albini rawness and Ballou’s low-end obsessions.
I did say rarely any moments, because there are some notable ones: 50s Dad has a lyrical and musical immediacy that sticks out, and it percolates into a batshit, noise-spasm solo; Wrong Side of History leverages dueling melodies that clarifies that this is a group; and closer You Don’t Have Cancer is appropriately situated, finally unleashing Kowloon in a way the digs deepest into both their minimalist and heavy sides, connecting emotional lyrics with powerful music.
Out of seven tracks, that’s not a horrible track record, but because the majority of Container Ships is ultimately rather middling – even if it’s all solidly performed, and has sonic affectations that lump it into a pile with other great bands – it doesn’t contain that extra something which would bring the album up to nearer the top of that pile.