[11 August 2014]
Prawn is a fairly low-key indie emo group. I actually stumbled across this Ridgewood, New Jersey-based band completely by accident on a download site for music journalists while looking for something else entirely, and downloaded the album on a whim just to see if it was any good. I’m glad I did. Kingfisher, the band’s sophomore release, is amazing. And it looks like others are starting to realize the charm’s of this heart-on-its-sleeve outfit.
I have a friend who edits and publishes my fiction in London, and, without any warning or prompting on my part, I discovered that she had shared a link to a Prawn track from Kingfisher on Facebook not long after my own stumbling upon this group. I wouldn’t be surprised, then, if Prawn explodes and goes viral with this release, which shows a real sense of maturity and heft that is absolutely stunning. Wall to wall, it doesn’t have a single weak track on it. Sounding at times like the Appleseed Cast in all of its mathy glory, and sometimes sounding like the National of old, just with the added vocal range of a singer who sounds remotely like J Mascis, Prawn deftly shows that they’re not a band to be ignored.
Like any best kept secret, Prawn swims the distance of emo-rock with a force that is to be reckoned with. The album opens with “Scud Running” and a repeated chiming guitar chord (you listen to it, and the guitar is practically speaking the words “chime!, chime!, chime!”) before the cellos kick in. There’s a very Broken Social Scene touch as trumpets get eventually added to the piece. It’s a chilling work, but one that is like an exasperation of trying to struggle and be heard. “It’s the floor I’m reaching for,” sings vocalist Tony Clark, “a breath beneath the surface / It weighs me down / It cuts me from / The line that you’ve been reeling.” But should you think this is a study in pessimism, Clark add, “If there’s a light from that beacon / I can count the distance,” as though he’s swimming towards something more uplifting, even as he realizes that “it’s a long way away.” And, in a particularly deft move, the band skids out of “Scud Running” with the brilliantly titled “First As Tragedy, Second As Farce”. The seafaring imagery continues on here, “I miss the breakers breaking / Everything I’ve known.” If Kingfisher wasn’t an album of music, it would be a nautically themed painting.
Usually, I can listen to the first few notes of a record, and determine how the rest of it might play out—a sort of music critic ESP, I suppose. And after hearing “Scud Running” for the first time, I thought to myself, “I bet the rest of this is going to be equally amazing.” I was right. Third track “Prolonged Exposure” has some very Real Estate guitars lapping up the shoreline of the intro, before everything blows up into a cauldron of shimmery noise during the chorus. Prawn continues working its mojo from there. “Dialect Of” rings like a clarion call, a forceful and yet delicate stab at indie rock that will get your head nodding. And then the band knows just how to simmer things down with “Old Souls”, with a guitar line that practically yearns with sadness and melancholy. “We’re old souls in new skin / ...just waiting, waiting to begin,” yearns Clark. When the liquid guitars nudge their way in the bridge, you might just lose your breath.
“Glass, Irony”, which opens up the second half of the album, plays out like a long lost song by the Breeders, and, of course, the nautical themes keep coming long, hard and fast: “Let’s keep swimming / To our bodies.” “Absurd Walls”, meanwhile, sounds like a Modest Mouse track from their late-‘90s peak. The guitars shimmer and glisten, and you might want to pull out your hankie for this one. That is, until the song turns into something out of Vampire Weekend in the last half minute of the tune. The horns make their reappearance on “Thalassa”, along with a refrain that is utterly bile-filled: “I’m glad you found clarity in ambiguity,” the words carefully measured and delivered with a fury and vile not heard of since the days of Hüsker Dü. Heft and power courses throughout “Runner’s Body” with a pummelling riff and frantic desperation in the rushing guitar lines. Final song “Halcyon Days” brings things to a crystalline close, at least initially, before churning into a thick whirlpool of sound.
This LP is carefully constructed and pushes all the right emotional buttons to great effect, balancing its angst-ridden lyrics with a sound that’s as clear as glass. Kingfisher is absolutely fabulous and a thrilling discovery, regardless if you accidentally stumble across this or not. Every dorm room should come equipped with this album, along with the standard food and lodging, such a revelatory and emotional disc this is. Tapping into the anguish of the young, this album reels you in seductively, and it’s hard to find any fault with it. Listening to this—particularly in my case, as something stumbled upon—you feel the true joy of indie rock, and why it’s vital and still matters. While Prawn certainly don’t hide their influences, the way that this record congeals and morphs between its sonic templates keeps the listeners interest and an ear towards the stereo. All in all, this is upstanding stuff and just one of those records that is such a pleasant surprise that you will want to hold onto it endearingly and treasure it just for yourself. But don’t be selfish: Prawn needs to be known about to all of your friends and loved ones. Go and get Kingfisher, and find out for yourself what I’m fussing about. Now. In the end, you won’t regret that you did, believe me.