By Kyle Harcott
Themes of reflecting on one’s past and a heightened sense of melody permeate Spiral Shadow, the latest psych-sludge opus from Savannah’s always-impressive Kylesa – the end result is an immense and addictive listening experience. At times catchier and more melodic than 2009’s Static Tensions, in places Spiral Shadow comes off slightly more mature than its predecessor. But have no fear, there’s no shortage of sturm-und-drang clobber present throughout most of the record, but it’s when KYLESA takes chances with its sound and veers deftly into uncharted post-hardcore territory that this record takes off and becomes a knockout. There are a few times when the band drags its inner Pixies/Hüskers personae out into the light, and it’s a welcome change of pace.
Opener “Tired Climb” starts out trippy and swirling before those big, tribal drums carry the song into warhorse territory, and here the band’s trademark lockstep groove kicks the door down and sets the joint on fire, in a similar vein to last album’s opener “Scapegoat”. Most of the songs represented here are a perfect marriage of the KYLESA ethics at work – the band’s equally at home oscillating through their Floydian psych-tendencies as they are stomping your guts out with heavy-handed Neurosis-ist [Neurosist?] thunder.
Those boot-to-the-chops riffs are especially tearing on “Drop Out” which showcases the pomp and ceremony of the band’s two drummers, Carl McGinley and Tyler Newberry; Laura Pleasants’ howling-fury vocal is also a standout here. “Back and Forth” too, is another fine example of the the new Kylesa aesthetic coming into play. Tight-knit and uptempo, the song, with its vague tendencies toward Sonic Youth, refuses to play it safe and kick over into the expected blood and thunder territory. Closer “Dust” sports a similar attitude, again not breaking into outright hammer-and-tongs bombast, but with a slower-burning, thud-march pace.
But the album’s triumph for me, without question, is the majestic, heartfelt (hell, almost power-pop!) pageantry of “Don’t Look Back”; its two-note clarion-call intro causes the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up every time I listen– and the lyrics and vocals propel the song into sheer anthemic glory. It’s one of those tracks that’s so powerful and so instantly recognizable from first listen, that I had to check I wasn’t listening to some obscure cover, perhaps some heavied up, long lost one-hit wonder from a lesser-known John Hughes flick from the ‘80s. But, no, it only sounds that way. Kylesa have crafted the kind of song that is so unexpected, so unlike them, but at the same time fits them like a glove.
Kylesa’s enigmatic personality serves them especially well on Spiral Shadow. By not playing along with any sort of expectations that may have been set by Static Tensions, the band has really crafted an exquisite album which is set to blow some minds, provided listeners can keep theirs open. As one of my
most-anticipated albums of 2010, I’m happy to report it’s also quickly become one of my favorites.
9.5 / 10
(Season of Mist)