What separates Kinski from the milieu of psych/prog/space guitar bands bent on proving that instrumental guitar rock shouldn’t go the way of the T-Rex? Not a whole hell of a lot. Whereas the Seattle quartet’s last LP Airs Above Your Station played with textures learned straight out of the Mogwai manual for explosive dynamics, Alpine Static takes a hard right turn, breaking the inertia of atmospherics with an album flanked by big riffs and big-rock posturing from late ‘60s metal to late ‘90s proto-punk. Unfortunately for the band, they run into the same problem that seems to have hovered over each of their releases. Nice execution, not enough soul.
The first few tracks of Alpine Static shake off the space rock dust with a heavy dose of mustachioed hard rock a la Black Sabbath. The doubled guitar line on the opening cut, “Hot Stenographer”, could easily provide the score to a muscle car road race circa 1972, but the promising metal riff just keeps promising without much of a real payoff. The next couple of tracks, “The Wives of Artie Shaw” and “Hiding Drugs in the Temple (Part 2)”, are also ripe with riffage, but it all sounds too familiar and over played.
But Alpine Static isn’t all tricked-out stoner rock riff-mongering. Kinski has other references up (or on) its sleeves. There’s plenty drippy psychedelia as in the hushed atmospherics of “Passed Out on Your Lawn” and album closer “Waka Nusa” (complete with the lulling sounds of crickets and tree frogs), and Kinski is not averse to tossing in a few flourishes of experimentalism in among the standard issue guitar rock grooves. The middle section of “The Party Which You Know Will Be Heavy” devolves into long stretches of silence punctuated by scraping overdriven guitars. This pause could actually serve to slice the one song into two, but in Kinski’s world, where the average track clocks in at over eight minutes, bigger is better. “Passed Out on Your Lawn” descends into a series of long hushed tones and transitions nicely into the eerie minimalism which begins “All Your Kids have Turned to Static”. The track’s opening Steve Reich-inspired interweaving guitar lines quickly give way to a Can by way of Sonic Youth jam, ending on a triumphant guitar riff that might feel at home on a Chavez record. I’m sorry if all this name dropping gets a bit tedious, but tedious is a pretty apt description as much of Alpine Static feels like the musical equivalent of name dropping.
It’s all a very fine exercise in “spot the reference”, but, haven’t we all outgrown this a bit? There are ways to pay homage while managing to add something original and refreshing to the conversation (see Dan Snaith’s take on kraut jamming via Caribou’s last record, or Comets on Fire’s unhinged approach to stoner rock), but Kinski seems too satisfied with going down the road that isn’t less traveled, and that makes all the difference.
This is a pity, because there are, in fact, moments of brilliance within these walls of cock rock impersonation and intellectual thievery. These usually come in the form of shaking up those formulas a bit. Toward the end of the aforementioned “Hot Stenographer”, there’s a moment when the music drops, and a single note is allowed to feedback much longer than the usual “take a breath, drop the bomb” hard rock breakdown. Like a close-up in film that’s held a little too long, it leaves the listener a little uneasy. It is these sorts of slight variations that can breathe new life into a tired genre. The oddly looping and interweaving guitar trills that begin “Edge Set” (another nod to Steve Reich) give way to a stock-issue, though competently soaring guitar riff far too quickly, but it’s moments like this which give hope that Kinski can and eventually will provide us with an album that is consistently invigorating and fresh. Unfortunately for Kinski, Alpine Static is not that album.