Posts Tagged ‘Piecework’

Neurot Recordings / Gilead Media – 8th October 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Less is more. This is something that few bands appreciate or understand half as well as Kowloon Walled City. And less doesn’t have to mean less intense: if anything, it’s a major factor in the ‘more’ element of the equation. Instead of hitting the listener with hard volume, relentless drumming, and gnarly distortion, Kowloon Walled City distil emotional pain into something simple and direct, and in doing so achieve optimal impact.

Their last album’s crushing weight derived not from its pace or even its volume, but its sense of space. Instead of filling the air with big noise, each chord crashed down hard and rang out into silence. In that space, Singer/guitarist Scott Evans’ vocals conducted pure anguish and blank nihilism. No throaty metal stylisation or posturing, just a kind of shouting – a shout of pain, of psychological torture – the torture of existence.

It’s the space between the sound that they’ve explored in the evolution of their fourth album, Piecework – their first output in six years. Make no mistake: Piecework is fucking heavy. It packs some utterly gut-punching, seismic riffs that drive hard, and when they hit, they’re utterly pummelling. But it’s the bleakness, and the blankness, that’s most affecting, that really hits the hardest. In the first instance, it’s simply so raw, so unprocessed. With the vocals clean and up-front, it’s the humanity that’s at the fore.

Not that there was any fat on Grievances, but with Piecework they pare it right down to the bone, and then scrape away a little more. Whereas most of the songs of its predecessor sat around the five or even six-minute-plus mark, Piecework packs seven songs into around half an hour. In cutting back so hard, the effect if heightened as the grey walls close in tighter, faster, more likely to bring a crushing end. The effect is cumulative, and there are no clear standouts on Piecework, only a sustained slug driven by a low, lumbering bass. It’s a bass that really churns the gut, and it has a physical force.

The production captures this dark, dense force perfectly, conveying a sound that feels live, that feels real. Wish you were there? Hell yes: we all need a bit of fortune, and Piecework is both beautiful and harsh. When they bring it down to nothing but a single note hanging in the ear, I’m reminded of latter-day Earth, and it’s clear that space and time matter.

As the press notes tell us, ‘Evans was dealing with the loss of his father during the writing of the album. He found strength in the women in his life, especially his maternal grandmother, who worked at a shirt factory in Kentucky for 40 years while raising five kids. The album name (and title track) is a nod to her line of work—and her quiet resilience.’ The lyrics are at once abstract and packed with images. There are no specifics, only scenes, and they’re bleak ones, of claustrophobic confined spaces, of deathbeds.

And it’s no criticism that this feels like an album of graft: the rhythm section ploughs on, and on, relentlessly, as if their duty is pure graft, digging, digging, digging. In the same way that early Swans was the sound of punishment, so Piecework is a soundtrack to the brutal reality of production-line capitalism.

The album’s predominantly slow pace is not the sound of rapid mechanisation, but of soul-sapping drudgery, the crushing weight of negative progress. There is no respite, no detours to bathe in moments of human kindness, the idea that for everything, there are glimmers of light and optimism. No, Piecework is an album with no let-up, in the way that Unsane are unrepentant, unremittingly grey in their outlook and execution. It hammers and bludgeons away at the senses and prods hard at the frayed nerve endings, the space and dead air speaking to the emptiness that hits us when the noise stops. Life is short and life is cruel, and Piecework is the perfectly merciless reminder of that.

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Oakland-based heavy music savants Kowloon Walled City have announced Piecework, the quartet’s first album in six years, confirmed for an October 8th release via Neurot Recordings and Gilead Media. Since forming 15 years ago, the band has increasingly refined its deconstructed approach to noise rock, math rock, and post-hardcore, embracing dynamics and negative space to a degree that few others in the world of heavy music match. With Piecework Kowloon Walled City has managed even greater levels of restraint: songs are bleak and slow, but also shorter and more concise; counterpointing moments of austere beauty with stretches of near silence. While the band has always operated under the MO that less is more, it has doubled down on that ethos for Piecework. Singer/guitarist Scott Evans and guitarist Jon Howell, the main songwriters, self-imposed restrictions to push themselves creatively—“restraining ourselves into oblivion,” as Howell puts it.

The negative space amplifies the ruptures of heady aggressiveness that anchor Piecework. Angular guitar notes from Howell skew off the neck, dissolving into space. Ian Miller’s bass lines churn in the muck. Drums and cymbal smashing by Dan Sneddon punctuate dead air. (Sneddon, formerly of Early Graves, makes his recording debut with the band five years after joining.) There’s sadness and anger in Evans’ shouted vocals, but also a desire for something better; hints of perseverance and hope pushing through the resignation and regret. Piecework feels not only like an artistic accomplishment, but a triumph of resolve and vision.

Evans was dealing with the loss of his father during the writing of the album. He found strength in the women in his life, especially his maternal grandmother, who worked at a shirt factory in Kentucky for 40 years while raising five kids. The album name (and title track) is a nod to her line of work—and her quiet resilience. The themes of absence and death, surrendering to aging, and familial strength and love are all encapsulated in album artwork by photographer Melyssa Anishnabie—the tattered beauty of an abandoned home reveals the faint edges of where life used to be. Evans likens it to watching a grandparents’ house fall into disrepair. As with all previous KWC releases, Evans recorded and mixed Piecework (his impressive recording CV includes Thrice, Yautja, Great Falls, Ghoul, Town Portal, and many others) and like previous albums Container Ships (2012) and Grievances (2015) the tracks were recorded live at Oakland’s Sharkbite Studios, with minimal overdubs.

Watch ‘Piecework’ here:

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Photo Credit: Scott Evans