Kitner
Photo: Courtesy of Relief Map Records

Kitner Revamp Emo Rock on ‘Shake the Spins’

Kitner’s Shake the Spins lives up to its hype as a debut LP that breathes fresh life into genres like emo and indie rock in dire need of resuscitation. 

Shake the Spins
Kitner
Relief Map Records
1 October 2021

Boston-based indie rock band Kitner were forged through a mutual love for the Get Up Kids and the Replacements. Those influences are certainly felt on their debut album, Shake the Spins. Although Kitner fit alongside contemporary emo savants such as Joyce Manor, Tigers Jaw, Desaparecidos, and Oso Oso, they cohesively fuse intimate, textured lo-fi snippets with crisp slices of roaring melancholy, leaning gently into Saddle Creek and Vagrant Records influences. They slap a much-needed coat of their signature hyperkinetic gloss on the indie rock, emo, and power pop genres. 

Recorded, mixed, and produced by Ryan Stack (Fucko, Choke Up, Jeff Rowe) over the course of 2019 and mastered by the legendary Alan Douches (Japandroids, Saves the Day, the Promise Ring), Shake the Spins is easily one of the slickest sounding rock albums of the year. Beginning with the intriguing instrumental noises of “Hi-Fi Times”, the record starts with drummer Will Buiel’s subdued drums reminiscent of heartbeats, Wurlitzer electric piano, and one of many eccentric, dreamy samples scattered throughout the LP (created by guitarist and singer Connor Maier in his bedroom in New Haven). After the fade-in to the shimmering riffs and soaring octave guitar of “Suddenly” kick in, the band channel the spirit of the Hold Steady, delivering an open-hearted, refreshing brand of indie rock that rings along with the sampled bells of the song’s blistering chorus.

When the next track, “Bowery”, begins, Shake the Spins creates the aural effect of one single continuous song, each song flowing into the next indistinguishably as Maier’s slurred, guileless vocal cascade carries listeners upstream against currents of infatuation and loss. “I’m high on rye / Finding no salvation / In these drinks / But you’re beautiful / And blurry-eyed / As we walk the Bowery.” The verses feature drum samples and effects reminiscent of the Postal Service. The song fades out to background noise and barroom banter, creating the impression that the listener is sitting alongside Maier, conversing over drinks.

“Junebug” (touting a charming Dawson’s Creek-themed music video) then unfurls an earthy twang with sampled strings, harmonica, and endearing references to the lyrics of Daniel Johnston. “True love will find you / You’ll no longer live your life in vain / Though it’s probably not me / I could still walk you home.” Deeply rooted in the streets and bars of Boston, on this track, Maier wanders through “an endless sea of strangers / in black hoodies” in search of meaning and connection. 

Beth Israel” begins with a lo-fi intro tipping its hat to Built to Spill and Guided by Voices. It then explodes into an alt-punk anthem that returns a sound reminiscent of Brand New home to its roots in rock akin to the Replacements on their seminal album Tim. Of course, the moment of takeoff is marked by Maier’s wild yelp, which is distinctive on a record chock-full of off-the-cuff moments capturing the band’s spontaneous live energy. Inflected with a healthy dosage of pop-punk riffage from lead guitarist James Christopher and anchored by Buiel’s vital high-hat and tambourine, the track touts an infectious chorus, “the senseless innocence” of the song’s subject “stripped away” as pill habits, “lessons in sobriety”, and “tests I failed miserably” abound. Elsewhere, Kitner meld a classic emo sound that recalls the Appleseed Cast’s Two Conversations with the ’90s alternative rock choruses of acts such as Third Eye Blind on “Orient Heights”. 

“Malden, MA” launches into its feedback-driven, folky punk. James Christopher is fully unleashed here, melting ears with fuzzy guitar bends, chaotic phrases, and slacker thrills, developing a style similar to J. Mascis. The track fades out with a voice memo of Maier’s. “You are all beautiful / And I love all of you.” It sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom of a dive bar, muffled music blaring in the background. Touches such as this one and bassist Breanne Christopher’s reading of a short story at the beginning of “Malden, MA” enrich the record and tightly string these songs together through moments of whimsy and intimacy. 

The last few tracks on the album are particularly compelling. The lyrics of “New Haven, CT” explore what feels like manic depression on a half-acoustic, half-electric song mixing synchronous harmonica and guitar with exquisite backing vocals. Opening to the sound of crickets chirping, “Henry Miller ’91” then builds into a bittersweet effects-laden tune featuring alt-country guitar parts, Wurlitzer electric piano, and plaintive vocals. The song’s harmonized guitar solo soars as Maier and Breanne Christopher deliver a powerful refrain. “As the fire grows / Closer to my face / My thoughts become / Harder to trace / I’m taken back / To brighter days / It’s you and me / Happy in a / Drunken summer’s haze.” 

Beginning with droning guitar and the sound of trains in the background, “If There’s Anything Left” closes out with a breakup song brimming with saccharine lyrics that wouldn’t feel out of place on American Football‘s self-titled debut. “When all that I have lost / I found in you.” The track features one final hidden gem of a piano and vocal snippet like a lost letter at the bottom of a dusty cabinet. Curiosities like this combined with thunderous, brisk instrumentation elevate Kitner above the sea of their contemporaries. For fans of heart-on-your-sleeve indie rock, Shake the Spins lives up to its hype as a debut LP that breathes fresh life into genres in dire need of resuscitation. 

RATING 8 / 10
PopMatters