Thursday, 2 August 2007

Top 100 Albums - #77: Kanute EP (2007)

At number 77 is the most recent EP from Leamington-based electro-alternative band Kanute.

[N.B. Actual album cover not available. Image is of 'Viper' single/ 7" vinyl to give a general impression. For more details see]

Kanute formed in 2006 as a duo between singer-songwriter Rachael Gray and producer-engineer Rob Overseer - a similar make up to Frou Frou, who appear later on up the chart. The pair first collaborated on the track 'Sparks' for Overseer's album Wreckage (2003). The combination seemed to work well and the two embarked on a joint project which became Kanute. After releasing a limited edition 7" vinyl and single via Rough Trade Records, the due began to play gigs in Oxford. Disastified with their live reputation, Gray put together 'Kanute 2.0', comprising her and six other members, which form the live act and the bulk of this recording.

The EP opens with 'Tapeworm', a track which sets the tone for the record. By juxtaposing the violin and cello with a very synthetic production, we get the impression of an electronica band which also sound very authentic live. Rather than just a vocalist performing to a series of backing tapes, like a concert by Basement Jaxx or The Chemical Brothers, this has an orchestral, studio feel to it, achieving the perfect synthesis of what could loosely be called 'the two Kanutes'. The song itself is distinctive for Gray's melancholy vocals backed by piano and guitar parts which are simple but effective. Whereas in live shows the violin and cello have often been drowned out, here they are given proper space, which is certainly welcome.

'Heartless' picks up on a motif of earlier singles like 'Viper': the use of looped male vocals treated to sound like a grammaphone record, creating a more experimental sound. Although this appears in the final third of 'Tapeworm', it is only here that it comes to the fore. Back by the strings, it opens the pieces like a music hall number from the Edwardian period, only to deceive you by breaking into 4/4 soft rock. The drums are very prominent here, with great work on the crash and bass drum providing a hook before Gray opens up. The best part of this song is the harmony between Gray and the loop, which feels ill-at-ease and yet works very well indeed.

'Academy' keeps the strong drums and adds an easy hooking bass line in an attempt to change the sound a little. In reality the bass doesn't really compliment Gray's voice in the high registers in which she chooses oto set the chorus. While the verse sounds like a lighter, more emotive version of Amy Lea from Evanescence, the chorus sounds quite inane because, although she can easily manage the registers, they don't allow room for the vocals. Kanute have tried to compensate both through the bass and piano on the chorus. However they don't really add anything to the piece, certainly not enough to shift it up to the quality of the others.

Already, we have come to the last track, and boy, it's a good'un. 'Seventeen' opens with some delightful bluesy guitar coupled with a drum part that is very basic and yet manages to add a different side to what otherwise could have sounded like a very slow, rather average indie track. Gray soars to a new high of ethereal melancholy, supported as always by a strong cello part. The drumming is very sensitive, with no showboating even on the livelier chorus. The only flaw to this piece is the male vocals after the second chorus. A grammaphone dub would not have worked, but the part as it is sounds stunted and almost throws the whole thing off balance.

Being part of the MySpace generation of budding musicians, the less observant listener may think that there is nothing especially remarkable about this EP. It's a pleasant listen, but doesn't exactly grip you like a lot of bands. In reality, there is a lot of potential here which will reward the more devoted fellower of 'the Leamington sound'. While she may not be the most biting lyricist around, Rachael Gray is a great singer, who conveys a great sense of sadness in her delivery. For fans of the processed, electronica sound of Kanute Mark I, the sampling and 'grammaphone' work will be a source of great interest; for fans of the live act, the string session and drum parts will make you listen more intently. Kanute EP is a very pleasant release from a band who have the potential to go very far.

3.75 out of 5

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