The Seattle quartet's style of lyric-free, guitar-dense workouts may be labeled avant-rock, but such pigeonholing doesn't do the band justice, especially for casual listeners who would probably prefer slicing off their own ears over hearing any more terrible avant-rock ever again. Over the course of nine years, the band has fed off feedback aggression and jam-band introspection, but the resulting songs have refused to marvel at their own complexity. Instead, the group's highly-articulate soundscaping focuses on emotion, shifting tempos and volume to elicit feeling and drama, not gear-head admiration.
Kinski continues to separate itself from avant-rock clichés on Down Below, It's Chaos. The title may suggest apocalyptic brooding, but the album's nine songs are, ironically, the most ecstatic and fleet-footed of the band's career, transcending desolation by rising above it. This could partly be due to a more streamlined approach: Even when the compositions go beyond seven minutes, drummer Barrett Wilke's no-nonsense pulse guides the songs, ensuring that they never drift into a stoner haze. Also contributing to the band's flirtation with the mainstream, guitarist Chris Martin actually sings on three tracks, two of which ("Passwords & Alcohol" and "Dayroom at Narita Int'l") are the album's finest moments, as Martin's growling monotone recalls spiritual mentor Thurston Moore's way of turning laconic phrasing into a sexy, stirring attitude. Pretty soon, labeling may not matter with Kinski, which seems well on its way to becoming a great rock band, period.
Tim Grierson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.