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Kylesa: Exhausting Fire *

Album Notes

It's tempting to call Kylesa's Exhausting Fire the culmination of the experimentation that began on 2010's Spiral Shadow as punk-metal tempos fell off and psych began threading its way into their stoner sludge mix. On 2013's widely celebrated Ultraviolet, they added lush atmospheres and textures to balance their heaviness. Kylesa is down to a trio here, with guitarists/vocalists Phillip Cope and Laura Pleasants, and drummer Carl McGinley. Cope produced the set and co-engineered it with Zac Thomas. Metal is almost gone from Kylesa's attack; it has been replaced by an even more ambitious meld of fuzzy, blasted, washed-out soundscapes, subtle harmonic asides, complex songwriting architecture, and heavily phased psychedelia, with sludge becoming the ballast rather than anchor. Melody has replaced riffing as the central writing construct, but it's never far off-center. "Crusher" has no less than five parts in as many minutes. Pleasants is comfortable using her natural voice; it's the tune's hub. Guitars slip and slither offering vamps, drifts and drones with varied layers of distortion, feedback, and counterpoint, while McGinley's drums alternate between doomy rock slams, tight, accented fills, and roiling undercurrent. While the groove-and-chug in "Shaping the Southern Sky" -- in which McGinley literally swings -- contains some sheer rockist power; it's tempered by a spindled, faze-shifted middle section, with gated, wafting guitar effects, a blown-out bassline, and spacy droning organ. It all comes to a different psych plane before the cut mutates toward crunch again. "Moving Day" has such an infectious pop melody that it comes off as near goth rock, with Cope as lost in soul searching as Depeche Mode's Dave Gahan. While "Blood Moon" commences with a mournful oboe amid reverbed guitars and lithe backbeat drumming, within 30 seconds, blastbeats, tremolo picking, angled riffing, and clean signing -- from both vocalists -- transforms it into a fresh, wildly adventurous take on black metal (and it's one of the album's best tracks). Cope's vocal on "Night Drive" in an almost straight-up hard rock verse is highlighted by downtuned fuzz bass, wonky guitar effects, and a near silky pop bridge delivered by Pleasants. "Growing Roots" is noisy pop that sounds like '90s-era Sonic Youth covering the Cure. "Out of My Mind" has a pummeling, fuzzy, almost funky bassline, two lithe, contrasting vocal melodies, atop the dynamic guitar force of early Killing Joke playing hooks by Jesus and Mary Chain. For Kylesa, Exhausting Fire marks not only a giant step on their ever evolving journey (one that effortlessly looks forward and back simultaneously), but is also the bedrock of an idiosyncratic, clearly demarcated sonic terrain no other band can claim. ~ Thom Jurek


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