Chocolate Fireguard. Black porn star’s screen name? Color of the curtains in your grandma’s receiving room? Flavored condom? Or, moniker for the little-indie-dance-label-that-wants?
The namesake of Pat Fulgoni’s company actually began as a tongue-in-cheek play on the Yorkshire expression “as much use as a chocolate fireguard”, but don’t let modest airs be confused with true ambition. Like any aspiring businessman Fulgoni envisions broadening his base past his home of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire; thus far, the label has made inroads into the UK dance community. At present, Fulgoni has spearheaded a bid for the international market with Kava Kava, a live dance ensemble that he also fronts.
The choice is a curious one considering that the group’s appearance alone contrasts with the aesthetics of nearly every genre and sub-genre of dance music. The quartet has all the makings of “that” band at your primary school friend’s wedding: tiki torch name (kava kava is a pepper-based plant found in the South Pacific, known for its relaxant qualities), a Long-Hair for a singer (it’s Pat!), a Who’s That Lady guitarist, and the fact that they are a live band playing dance music. Given that groups like Los Amigos Invisibles and newcomers Brazilian Girls have overcome similar stigmas, it is truly unfortunate that Kava Kava only lives up to them: Party Boy anthems, melodramatic vocals, and every poor bar band’s weakness for wank wank wank wank wank.
On the band’s third full-length Maui, Kava Kava demonstrates these J.V. mistakes in its poor transcription of house band aesthetics to house music. While the group initially passes inspection with the lead single and throwback disco stomper “Don’t Stop the Music”, the same cannot be said for the whole album which drags under a morass of hackneyed dance postures, unimaginative arrangements, and arrogant production. Kava Kava has a rock band’s ear for catchy hooks, but demonstrates no mastery of dance music by burying half-sketched ideas underneath glossy engineering and dramatic effects. Maui takes no cue from either the album or band’s namesake, but instead becomes a nerve-wracking and exhausting experience.
The first six minutes of Maui summarize all that is well executed and poorly conceived about the record. A brief but dramatic crescendo of backwash explodes into “Don’t Stop”‘s fuzz-octave-wah washes over Talkin’ All That Jazz thump and Vincent Montana, Jr. accents. Fulgoni channels Robert Plant machismo, but with enough sparseness that the drama of this cosmic dance track is maximized. The production is loud, each instrument swirling into and on top of each other, but the arrangement makes space for filters and drops that move the song from part to part. However, “Don’t Stop”‘s brassy tone and song structure is heard repeatedly, and quickly becomes a tired formula. Instead of toning down after such a delirious opening, “Space People” only jacks up the record to a pumping muscleman beat. Loud instruments quickly become instrumental imbalance as each member blares for dominance: the wash of phased guitars become aural masturbation; speaker huggers become pedantic thumps; and Plant becomes Palmer with über-prominent vocals left to graze on the firing range with lines like, “The music reaches out to me / I feel your funky symphony.” Dubby trumpets add a nice touch of space and variation, but parallel structure only highlights the struggle of conflicting egos.
In Kava Kava’s defense, this lack of balance perhaps stems from the band’s foundation in live performances, where there is less room for detail. While a gig benefits from nonstop energy, the home listening experience, specifically in album format, demands pacing and subtlety. On this note, the aforementioned Los Amigos Invisibles made several missteps on its debut by featuring quality playing, but little sense of moderation. Kava Kava follows the path by blaring through even its “downer” tracks, such as “Sicfuck” and “Terrorists” (even the titles leave little to the imagination). Blow Your Head moogs give way to organ hustles and Verve steppers, respectively, offering an initial moment of respite, but both tracks become six-plus minute loops replete with blaring and peaking tones that wears thin on the ear. All of these cases demonstrate how intensity works well in the live environment, but must be controlled in the studio so as not to become muted and ignorable.
Hopefully Kava Kava will take a cue and restructure their music for recording experiences, because Maui sounds like a live performance structure under the guise of dance music. As it stands, the cheerleading big beat works well for the Greek letter set, but hardly for the imaginative. Repeated trips to the studio, careful attention, and less of that Maui Wowie may just be the key.