Ben Barnett has a few problems, and by gum, he wants to tell you all about them. “Great”, you say. “I’ve got enough problems as it is without some other whiney bastard adding his to the pile.” Normally, I’d be inclined to agree with this assessment of other people’s problems. Hell, there’s a reason I’m not a therapist. However, Ben Barnett is different. He has a way of making his problems, which, at the root, are pretty much the same as every other poor slob’s problems, seem different. Or special, if you prefer. Now, how, you ask, does he do this? Very simple: by writing alarmingly good songs about them.
If you’re a newcomer to Barnett’s problems, you might find yourself a bit blown away by the catharsis and sheer rage that oozes out of every crevasse of Bridges Worth Burning. And even if you’re a Kind of Like Spitting fan from way back, there are still surprises to be found on the band’s latest. For instance, the fiery reworking of “Tyco Racing Set and A Christmas Story Fifteen Times” simply destroys the original, found on the band’s 2000 release Old Moon in the Arms of the New, by supplying it with a healthy quantity of searing guitar licks and a sturdy backbeat courtesy of drummer Ben Gibbard (yes, that Ben Gibbard). KOLS has often reinterpreted this song live in a similar fashion, and it’s nice to hear this version of the song actually be put to tape. Barnett is obviously not one to shy away from his past, as two other songs on Bridges Worth Burning are remakes of old KOLS songs: both “Continent”, which appeared on KOLS’ Insound Tour Support EP, and “Crossover Potential” receive significant makeovers here. Thankfully, in all cases, the full band arrangements improve dramatically on the versions that Barnett originally set down by himself with a four-track.
KOLS has always been an utterly phenomenal live band. On a good night, backed by a tight band, Barnett has the ability to convince self-respecting musicians that they are cheaters and frauds, and that they should throw their guitars down and simply give up, because they’ll never get as good as this. Hundred Dollar Room, KOLS’ last full-length, saw Barnett creeping ever closer to capturing this intensity on record. Bridges Worth Burning gets just that much closer - barn-burners like “Born Beautiful” and “This Lemonade is Terrible” are staggering efforts in which you can practically see the veins on Barnett’s forehead distending as he screams out his bitter, anguished lyrics. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing - Barnett is an eloquent, evocative writer, consistently transforming his psychological trauma into pointed nuggets of wisdom that stick with you. “It’s a classless kind of fate; it holds its ground in the way that death just makes you wait”, he hollers righteously in “Born Beautiful”, and if you’re unclear on exactly what fate he’s talking about, you’re missing the point. Elsewhere, as in “I Want Out”, he’s much more pointed: “I want to peel the skin away / Peel it back off of my face / All the words and empty promises, release them / I want lightning through my roof / While I tear apart your room / Find all the love you gave to me, retrieve it”.
Barnett has always been about catharsis, whether it was simply the banging-on-an-acoustic-guitar-in-a-lonely-room kind of catharsis that his early records espouse, or the more focused, intense version that debuted with his early high-water mark Nothing Makes Sense Without It. However, Bridges sees Barnett marrying that catharsis to some of the most catchy rock ‘n’ roll he’s yet produced. The result is, more often than not, quite stunning. The first three songs on the record set the bar immediately: the tense, urgent “Passionate” (“Let’s be passionate, it’s not like we get another chance to do this”) segues perfectly into the manic-depressive bounce of “We Are Both Writers”, which then careens headlong into the fiery “Born Beautiful”. From there, it’s the usual back and forth between the soft (the acoustic “Canaries”, the slow-burn “I Want Out”) and the loud (the sheer punk fury of “This Lemonade Is Terrible”, the sprightly “Following Days”), and the band proves themselves equally capable of kicking ass in either mode.
It seems that Kind of Like Spitting have finally arrived with the release of Bridges Worth Burning. They’re finally on a label (Barsuk Records) that can support them to some extent and help them get to where they need to be (if my count is right, this is KOLS’ seventh release and sixth record label!). The fact that the record they just made is their best yet can only help matters along.