Back in 2008 an innocent band in southern California put out their first album, Turk Street. At the time Kowloon Walled City was just being born. Seven years, and a guitarist swap, later Kowloon Walled City have evolved in both sound, theme and vision. Grievances is a major step forward for a band already aglow with promise. An emotionally devastating work of vast sonic consequence, Grievances touches the listener in all the places (even the illegal ones). A dagger through the heart and a harsh, almost punk-like, critique on society. Intelligent, bleak, and mournful — Grievances is a must listen and a definite contender for album of the year in 2015.
Whether Kowloon Walled City are post-hardcore or sludge is a debatable fact. While their music may not be as aggressive and in your face as the days of Turk Street and Gambling on the Richter Scale, the backbone of the band has never changed. Even on Container Ships when guitarist Jason Pace left the band and was replaced by Jon Howell, the band retained their characteristic drive and down-tuned cadence. Mostly due to the songwriting and vocal abilities of Scott Evans. Grievances is merely another logical step in the evolution of one of music’s most underrated bands.
Always a critical part of any Kowloon Walled City album, Ian Miller’s loose and big bass tone leads the way. (Sounding almost like catgut strings.) Following that lead are discordant, near baritone level down-tuned guitars. Grievances builds on Container Ships using the hollow, almost echoing production as if recorded inside a metal hanger (mostly due to the vocals). Kowloon’s ability to create sparse, elongated and patient cadences coupled with their metallic, organic guitar sound makes for a purely draining experience. As the songs construct and decay, the monotony washes over the listener in a warm and welcoming fashion.
One of the most unique aspects of Kowloon Walled City is their ability to break the fourth wall. Aside from them being incredibly personable human beings, always available on Twitter and the like, their music is intimate — as if it was written specifically with the listener in mind. The result is to carry the listener into the fold and allow the interpretation of the music to become another element of the art. In this way their music is never stiff, rigid or inaccessible. Rather, it’s fluid, honest and entirely inviting.
While “better years look better when they’re gone” it’s hard to say Kowloon Walled City has had a better year musically. With DIY and social media promotions, essentially word of mouth, the band is more popular than ever. Despite the gloom on Grievances, there are bright things in store for KWC. An album that bridges the gap between indie, heavy and hard music, Grievances should be that album that everyone can enjoy, even if it rips your heart out in the process.