Kylesa - Ultraviolet

Thanks to the thundering two-drummer onslaught of their live shows and the basement-punk fury of their 2009 album Static Tensions, Savannah’s Kylesa were probably already my favorite active metal band by the time they released Spiral Shadow two and a half years ago. But that album only deepened my love of this band, since it took what they were already doing and pushed it toward a hugeness that I hadn’t allowed myself to imagine. The band’s big trick was the way they fused bleary post-hardcore catharsis and speed with the bleary-eyed grandeur of doom metal. But somewhere underneath all that fuzz and frenzy, there was also at least a trace of triumphant old-school Southern-rock melody. Spiral Shadow took that part of their sound, ran with it, and linked it to the expansive ’90s indie rock that the band members probably liked to blast on van rides. “Don’t Look Back,” still the band’s best song, was like a Built To Spill track constructed on top of a supercharged Motörhead engine. And now on Ultraviolet, their sixth album, Kylesa have pushed that sense of melody and atmosphere even further, to the point where it’s overshadowed all that was metal about their sound.

Ultraviolet is not the kind of album that kicks your ass. It’s a work of dark psychedelia rather than metal bluster, and its guitars sound like a dense soup rather than, say, the attacking army of Static Tensions. Singer and guitarist Phillip Cope, who produced the album, has buried the drums deep in the mix, to the point where you can forget, for vast stretches of time, that this is a band with two drummers, even though those two drummers were once Kylesa’s main selling point. And when those drummers do make their presence felt, it’s not with battering-ram force; it’s with something like the intricately mystic drum-circle breakdown on “Long Gone.” I would’ve once called Cope the band’s frontman, but he’s not really that anymore, either. He’s ceded the spotlight to singer and guitarist Laura Pleasants, whose faraway wail is now the primary instrument on one of these tracks; Cope mostly uses his own bear-grunt as a rhythmic counterpoint. As the band stretches out and quiets down, and as Pleasants takes center stage, the band’s new sound reminds me of those vastly underrated moments where L7 would suddenly turn warm and vulnerable. For my money, “One More Thing” and “She Has Eyes” are the #2 and #3 best L7 songs, behind “Pretend We’re Dead,” and Ultraviolet is practically an entire album of songs like those.

Lately, we’ve been hearing more and more of the adventurous bands in America’s metal underground putting metal to the side, doubling down on their own warmer and more inviting influences. Last year, Baroness’s Yellow & Green was a kickass neo-grunge album, as much as anything, and Deafheaven’s excellent new Sunbather rivals the My Bloody Valentine comeback as the year’s best shoegaze album. Ultraviolet isn’t that. You can’t really reduce it to a genre move, since it doesn’t really move toward any particular known genre. Instead, it’s like the band took all the ingredients that were already there in their music, slowed them down a step or two, and swirled them together a bit more. It’s a swampier, prettier thing than anything they’ve done before, but they still sound very much like themselves.

There’s a lot of textural variation in the album; they speed up and slow down and rough it up and smooth it out with aplomb. But the album still melts into one deeply satisfying whole — a stoned, riffy blur that seems ideally suited for rainy afternoons and window-staring contemplation. It manages to comfort without conforming to any previously existing norm, and it practically creates a genre unto itself. Between this and the Deafheaven album — about which we’ll soon have plenty more to say — metal, often caricatured as the domain of shop-class waistoids, is the place where you’re most likely to hear restless, inventive, forward-moving guitar-based music right now. You might do well to pay attention.

Ultraviolet is out now on Season Of Mist.

Other albums of note out this week:

• The-Dream’s sparkling, sexed-up goofball-R&B return IV Play.
• Mount Kimbie’s stark, evocative, bass-heavy Cold Spring Fault Less Youth.
• Gucci Mane’s thumping and reliably weird Trap House III.
• Roomrunner’s righteously fuzz-drenched debut Ideal Cities.
• Laura Marling’s warm, liquid Once I Was An Eagle.
• Baths’ blurry, bassy, falsetto-laden Obsidian.
• CocoRosie’s folky, art-damaged Tales Of A Grass Widow.
• The Pastels’ old-school twee-pop reunion effort Slow Summits.
• Real Estate side project Alex Bleeker & The Freaks’ gooey How Far Away.
• When Saints Go Machine’s stark electro-pop LP Infinity Pool.
• Free Time’s jangly, neurotic self-titled debut.
• ASG’s heavy-but-catchy Blood Drive.
• Tricky’s trip-hop return False Idols.
• Hooded Fang’s scrappily psychedelic Gravez.
• W-H-I-T-E’s shimmering, fizzy III.
• Alice In Chains’ reunion thing The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here.
• John Fogerty’s bizarre collab-heavy retread collection Wrong A Song For Everyone.
• The Arts & Crafts 10-th anniversary compilation X.
• Animal Collective’s remix EP Monkey Been To Burn Town.
• TEEN’s hypnotic indie-pop EP Carolina.
• Kingdom’s inventive dance EP Vertical XL.

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Comments (10)
  1. ” “Don’t Look Back,” still the band’s best song, was like a Built To Spill track constructed on top of a supercharged Motörhead engine. ”

    This is probably why I can’t really get into Ultraviolet. I am by no means a metal purist (I don’t think metal purists like Kylesa at all) but I think that Don’t Look Back is easily the WORST song on Spiral Shadow. It sounds like Brand New gone sludgy, a transparent bid for radio accessibility. For my money, Kylesa’s best song is Unknown Awareness or Crowded Road.

    Fortunately, I don’t think Ultraviolet is the sell-out radio metal I was afraid it might be. It has its moments, but overall I think it is missing the ferociousness and frenzy of Static Tensions and Spiral Shadow.

  2. Sure, I guess. I dig Kylesa. I just can’t imagine the album of the week NOT being the new Baths album.

    But if we’re intent on going metal, you can’t leave Deafheaven’s “Sunbather” out of the discussion. That record has been owning me all day.

  3. Nice review, but a fairly glaring error in calling Laura Pleasant their bass player.

  4. I don’t know. I always listen to new Kylesa albums, and I always find them interesting and listen for a few weeks, but I never find myself going back to them. They seem to be going down a road right now that will make that even more true for me.

    • I think the thing about this album is that it hits its stride near the back half of the album. It’s not terribly immediate, but it’s still a rewarding listen.

  5. Oh, there are two drummers in this band? Is it because one of them sucks, like every other two-drummer band? See: Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, the rest

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