A band that has been around as long as Kinski deserves to be cut some slack if they can’t remember whether they’ve now released seven or eight albums. Not long ago, the Seattle instrumental-ish rock group came back from a hiatus — the six-plus years between their 2007 album Down Below It’s Chaos and their 2013 return, Cosy Moments — that lasted longer than an average band’s entire lifespan. Factor in not just Don’t Climb on and Take the Holy Water (which Kinski released in 2004 when they were in between drummers and playing live as an improvisational trio called Herzog), but also the split LPs they’ve done with fellow space rockers Acid Mothers Temple and Paik, and it’s clear this one could have easily been called “7 (or 8, or 9, or…)”.
Beginning with their 2005 album, Alpine Static, reviews of Kinski’s records have continued to cite the band’s shift away from their earlier spacey, post-y sound. This critical déjà vu is somewhat similar to the way in which Ágætis byrjun continued to loom over appraisals of subsequent Sigur Rós albums throughout the ‘00s. After Cosy Moments, though, Kinski were surely at a place where relatively short, hard-charging rock songs had pretty much become their main mode. Potential fans who are just now arriving have the opportunity to dig into the band’s back catalog and be genuinely surprised by something like the floating melancholy of “Jetstream” from their debut EP, Spacelaunch for Frenchie, or the blissful bubbling of “One Ear in the Sun” from Be Gentle With the Warm Turtle.
Kinski have from the start — really, from as far back as the first two tracks on Spacelaunch for Frenchie, “Staring” and “Floundering & Fluctuating” — wandered down their own particular bifurcated path, with one foot in the garage and the other in the stratosphere. From Alpine Static static onward, they have seemed to be more and more keen on staying indoors with the oil fumes, save for the occasional stumble out on to the driveway to do some bleary eyed stargazing. Their Cosy Moments comeback may have felt intent on smashing whatever remnants of their post rock past still lingered, but a rift reappears on 7 (or 8).
The album’s seven tracks (there are definitely not eight…or are there?) divide themselves into the freewheeling crunch of the first six songs, and the gradual swell of the finale, “Bulletin of the International String Figure Association”. Much of 7 (or 8) lies underneath the surface; it requires repeated listens, but also rewards them. “Detroit Trickle Down” is a frenzied melee between riffs and solos that at first seems to be missing some wild, screaming lyrics, but then there wouldn’t be much room for them if there were any. Guitarist Chris Martin does deliver some dry-humored lines on “Flight Risk” and “Operation Negligee”, but Kinski rely predominantly on their ability to hold attention without words.
Engineered by Phil Manley (of Trans Am, The Fucking Champs) and mastered by the inimitable Bob Weston, 7 (or 8) hardly ever lets brain subjugate brawn, but nor does the brawn stifle brain. “I Fell Like a Fucking Flower” comes on like a descending version of the opening to McLusky’s “To Hell with Good Intentions” before plowing forward like the brake pedal fell off. The wiry psychedelic lashes and lulls of “Powder” offer only the most meager of rests before “Drink Up and Be Somebody” and “Operation Negligee” start kicking out the jams again.
“Bulletin of the International String Figure Association”, then, comes around like a familiar Kinski curve ball. From Spacelaunch for Frenchie through Airs Above Your Station, Kinski made a habit of beginning each record with a quiet passage that was just long enough for the listener to start wondering if they were going to finally bring the noise or what (they inevitably did). The lengthy “Bulletin…” drifts kindly in ambience for a few minutes before a resonating three-note guitar part announces itself as the center of the unhurried snowball that accumulates, speeding and slowing, picking up a formless keyboard part here and skittering drum fills there. Finally, eight minutes in, “Bulletin…” becomes more than the sum of its parts, even hoisting up a string section amidst the repeatedly cresting waves to cap off the big finish.
Even if it took them a little while, Kinski always knew how to start a song, and they could sure bring the pain to the middle of a song, but for quite a while it seemed like they weren’t always so sure how to end a song. This quirk came to the fore on Airs Above Your Station, their early career highlight for which one of the only weaknesses was that the band didn’t seem to want to stop playing. (Fair enough, given the material they were working with). Their recent aversion to getting epic, including the bulk of 7 (or 8), avoids the issue, but “Bulletin…” tackles it head on, and emerges triumphantly. Though Kinski never appeared to be overly concerned with audience expectations, 7 (or 8) nonetheless sweats with liberation but exhales with focus.