The Kissaway Trail
Anthemic rock music really has to soar to earn its name. To rouse an audience because they are already familiar with your work is one thing, but to come out anonymously and take a crowd by storm is the most blatant asset in this glossy depiction of “anthemic indie-rock”. For a band like The Kissaway Trail, their label as a “blog band” comes from the massive online acclaim that treated other artists like the Arcade Fire and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! To sudden success in prior years. Some of these blog-fueled acts prevail by seizing upon the immediate opportunity and never looking back, but most squander after an album or two. While these type of bands lack the traditional PR format of exposure, their online-based exposure is equivalent to the resonance of a vastly successful, albeit virtually unknown, artist at a show that takes first-time audiences by storm. The medium there is just a concert hall instead of a blog; one is physically substantive in real life but they both have a similar aim, that being the promotion of unknown artists that rouse listeners in ways only their familiar favorites previously could. That being said, it is hardly a surprise that The Kissaway Trail have generated substantial buzz with both their work in the studio and on stage.
Singer and guitarist Thomas Fagerlund calls Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins his favorite band and biggest influence, respectively. Such an appreciation for ’90s alt-rock is by no means concealed by The Kissaway Trail, who combine that with exhilarating indie-rock to produce a sound influenced by nostalgic alt-rock as much as contemporary, electronic-aided rock. On their new album Sleep Mountain, the Danish collective wildly impress with tones of both frailty and epic tendencies. Their electronic influences are primarily echoed in the production, which takes a routine rock-oriented cast of guitars and keys to sonorous heights. On one of the album’s brightest moments, “Painter”, we find the band at a beautiful place. The structural build-up this song literally makes me choke up, mainly because it employs the same gradual structural punch that orchestral epics do. It begins with a few splashes of keys sporadically interrupting an acoustic guitar, gradually giving way to gorgeous new accompaniments. Think a lyrically coherent Sigur Rós, especially once this one really gets going. Sure, The Kissaway Trail are pop musicians at heart just like most of their Scandinavian counterparts, but a remarkable effort like this shows their rare emotional depth. “Painter” is a more folk-laden tune accentuated by contemporary production, that being familiar with subtle sampling techniques. Its rootsy folk vibes are even apparent when several layers of vocal accompaniments, resonating strings, and reverbed percussion erupt in pure glory, never drowning out the simple acoustic guitar that is subtly the melodic heart of this beautiful epic.
The band likely groans whenever they hear an Arcade Fire reference, though even keeping that in mind I cannot resist when listening to “New Year” and “Beat Your Heartbeat”. It is one thing that Fagerlund’s vocals sound similar to Win Butler’s, but it is mainly the “anthemic” (oh, there’s that word again) type of songwriting that arises such comparisons. Producer Peter Katis (Interpol, The National) helps the case as well, even if comparisons to Manic Street Preachers would be more applicable. “Beat Your Heartbeat” sounds like a familial choir from the get-go, and when Fagerlund utilizes effects to alter his guitar’s tone into a more string-laden effect the comparison becomes even more evident. The haunting keyboard melody that creeps under the is proper reinforcement of an invigorating composition that would otherwise get lost in the intricate instrumentation and majestic production. Like Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós, The Kissaway Trail are quite extraordinary because they are able to make intricacy appear accessible and addictive. Similar to what Phil Spector did with his “Wall of Sound”, recent bands like Mono in VCF and The Kissaway Trail are showing his influence by infusing accessible songs with glossy production and intricate arrangements. Even if they are not the most theoretically complex works, the songs on Sleep Mountain play with such distinctiveness and passion, thanks to a one-two punch of fantastic songwriting and suitable production. There is no desperate audible plea for radio time, nor an overly stylistic public image that tarnishes their sound. The Kissaway Trail are one of the few contemporary bands today making stylish rock music without sacrificing their modest image. In showing that alone, Sleep Mountain is an enormous success.
RIYL: Manic Street Preachers, Arcade Fire, Sigur Rós, Mono in VCF, Interpol, Figurines, Choir of Young Believers, Kashmir