Kowloon Walled City’s original ethos was to never evolve, a rule that guitarist/vocalist Scott Evans put in place early on in the band’s career. Rules are, of course, made to be broken, and much like the lawless city that the band is named after, a little bit of anarchy here and there always makes for a good story and a whole pile of tension.
Whilst the band has relaxed its position on evolution, their commitment to the fundamentals remains in place. There’s no attempt to add layers of finesse or trickery to anything on Grievances at all, it’s an album that just relies on the sum of its parts – vocals, guitars, bass, and drums. In terms of sound it’s a fairly monotone palette, sometimes the guitar and bass are clean, but mostly they’re swathed in ferocious distortion; the kind that makes each chord hit like a gloomy, barbed wire wrapped, wrecking ball.
The production of Evans keeps things relatively no-frills, the upshot is that the sheer weight of the Grievances is achieved by the band’s natural sound, and when they’re in full flight they pack a sizeable punch. The band’s move away from their sludgier beginnings and towards something a little more considered has given the band’s songs more space , in essence they’re occupying a spot somewhere between post-hardcore and post-rock but not really committing to either camp. Backit for example starts off with a relatively delicate riff, before being propelled by a truly fibrous bassline and a relentless pounding guitar riff. It’s a little like listening to a band adopt its own version of Ali’s Rope-A-Dope. Evans delivers his impassioned vocals in the spaces, filling the gaps with raw emotion, then the band pile in to deliver the killer blows. There’s no wild flailing at work here, and the band’s apparently simplistic approach to riffs and sound ensure that each of these songs is designed for maximum impact. As simplistic as many of the songs appear, over time they unfurl into something quite breathtaking.
As a whole, the album addresses the relentless grind of work and employment and the sleight of hand that seems to take the best years of your life away, and these themes certainly resonate in the tones of the bass and guitar. They’re there in the lyrics too, True Believer for example leaves nothing to the imagination with lines such as “can you taste the rain in the air again, as you line up and try to look proud. Twenty five years of true belief, and now this”. The Grift’s title and the suggestion that the decks are stacked in Daughters And Sons highlights the unscrupulous nature of business whilst Your Best Years is even more up front “They’ll cut you down to count the rings, measure out your worst years” intones Evans, summing up the employment experience in succinct if slightly depressing terms.
All of which would be a little too much to bear were it not for the subtly on display. The interplay between the guitars of Evans and Jon Howell is at times utterly sublime. The title track for example finds them twisting around each other delicately, before coalescing into a sledgehammer pulse. The Grift rumbles into life and charges headlong towards retirement, but switches mood midpoint with a quite sublime low slung riff and counterpointed guitar lick that fills the song with a palpable sadness. This is a band not intent with mindlessly grinding their audience into submission, there’s an emotion at work here that is inherent in these songs. Tonally, Daughters And Sons is a little brighter, but there’s little respite in content when Evans hollers “Are we satisfied yet?” and wonders how cynicism crept into life. This is far from Primal Scream therapy though; the entire album is an eloquent and heartfelt rumination and, despite Evans’ assertion that “all of your voices are like silhouettes”, Grievances proves that it is possible to make your voice heard, and do so with real vigour.