[10 August 2006]
“It’s getting hard to be good enough,” sings Kahoots frontman Rob Myers on “See Saw”, a track from the Martha’s Vineyard- based indie pop band’s latest album, Fourteen Ghosts. With the smallest of tweaks, that line could be the underlying theme of the album: it’s competently-played and enjoyable, but rarely transcendent; Fourteen Ghosts is proof that it’s getting hard to be better than good enough.
After nearly a decade together, the Kahoots—singer/guitarist Rob Myers, guitarist Elisha Wiesner, bassist John Larsen, keyboardists Charlie Esposito and drummer Pete Koeplin—are tight as they come, and know how to play off one another. To wit, the opener “Shut Up”, where Myers’ vocals slip-slide over a confident, bouncy melody, or the way the band manages to shine a little folksy light into the bleakly-titled “I’ll Be Your Coffin”. And a three-song stretch on Side B—“For a Haystack”, “A Thousand Pardons” and the fuzzed-out “Your Bed”—crackles with life, proof positive that the Kahoots have earned their Indie Pop Merit Badges. But… they still lack their own identity, the hook that’ll separate them from the teeming, huddled, Converse-clad indie masses.
Not that they don’t try. The album is called Fourteen Ghosts and there’s an appropriately gloomy cast over a good chunk of songs, but the Kahoots make the mistakes of thinking “slow song” equals “gravitas”. The dirge-y “People Always Let You Down” and “Your Ride’s Leaving” suffer from this incorrect equation and chief offender is the ostensible album centerpiece, “The Coroner Blinks Twice”. It’s only three minutes and 30 seconds, but feels twice that length, ever-so-slowly building while Myers near-whispers lines like “I would drink your blood”. The song never reaches a satisfying pay-off, and simply put, they’re just not a band that looks good in funeral grays.
The picture I’ve painted is of a band that’s damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and while that’s not entirely fair, maybe remedying that image as simple as buffing the poppier songs until they gleam, rather than leaving them rough around the edges and just “good enough”. The Kahoots began life as a punk-folk duo of Myers and Wiesner in the mid-‘90s; with the addition of new members over the years, they’re clearly still an evolving unit. Banish the ghosts, tighten and brighten the sound and the Kahoots will be a band worth being, in, uh, cahoots with.