The way new music matriculates into the current music scene has become this sort of precision-based, hyper-active process. The LPs, EPs and 7-inches float down the conveyor belt of some Wonka-like mega-gadget. When they get to the end of the belt, the claw lifts them up and drops them into their respective genre bins. Over here is a bin labeled “Glo-fi.” And over here is one labeled “Shit-gaze.” And right next to that, “Baroque NPR-pop.” Online music culture is like the record shop on steroids-instead of just one wall being labeled “rock” and the other “alternative,” we can now finger interminably through infinite cyber bins.But what about music that falls outside the reach of the judgmental music machinery? That’s what KC Quilty is-a young band whose tastes fell into a time capsule 15 years ago, leaving them to sound delightfully disconnected to anything current. If you had to peg a genre on it, it’d be grunge. KC Quilty, a three-piece from Brooklyn, drags its drumbeats through sludge and soaks its guitar tones in slacker anti-energy. Its choruses swell with easy power while zephyrs of feedback swirl in and around the mix. The drones and dissonance are matched by the rock solid hooks. These are jams composed with moptops and bags under the eyes and a warm heart for 90’s rock radio.
“What we hear the most is, ‘It reminds me of high school,’“ says lead singer/guitarist Sadie Dupuis. While it’s an odd thing to note considering this group of early twenty-somethings and their peers would have just graduated high school in the mid-aughts, it still feels accurate. Their songs feel like the product of children of the 90’s pledging allegiance to their era’s alt-rock. And while it’s unabashed in its loyalty to the decade Nirvana dominated, it still executes enough polite nods to the canonized indie-gods of the slacker movement to assure you of its credibility. It’s as much Malkmus as Cobain, and even more Pixies than Pearl Jam. “We have a tendency to tell people that we sound like Matador in 1993,” said Dupuis, who admits her admiration for label-greats Pavement, Guided By Voices and Helium.
Helium, of the aforementioned three, is the comparison that requires the least effort in connecting the dots. Sadie-the band’s founder, lead singer and principal songwriter-is, after all, a girl. She sings sweetly but isn’t interested in being cute. Lazy ears might make face-value claims of tough-girl group influences like Sleater-Kinney or (the super-dated) Veruca Salt. But what’s more striking in her voice is how cynical and unambitious it is-two qualities that line up nicely with an appreciation for all things Malkmus and Pollard. During a discussion of taste, Julian Fader, drummer and co-core member, admits that he “likes the female singers more than she does. I like the quieter moments and Sadie wants to get all loud.” “I like Soundgarden,” Sadie chimes from the other side of the room.
The power of KC Quilty-a name that refers to the Clare Quilty character of Nabokov’s Lolita-lies in that loud/soft dynamic. Like so many of the hits that swallowed whole the music industry in the early-to-mid 90s, Dupuis/Fader and co. take the formula of somber, tension-build in the verse into speaker-rattling catharsis in the chorus and absolutely run with it. In their best tracks, KC Quilty constructs its verses on lilting, lazy, drunken grooves. Typically, a Kim Deal-ian bass line (from the recently recruited Ethan Bassford) will serve as foundation while the guitar and vocals gradually drip moody atmosphere into the rising water-level of the song. The chorus, with its swell of power chords and power drums, is the sound of the water-level overtaking the rim.
Case and point: “Supernova,” Side A of this here digital 7-inch. It’s a classic build and release. Dupuis’s double-tracked vocals and down-tuned guitar crawl all over each other, thickening like a pea-soup fog filling the room. In the instant before the release of the chorus, Fader (who actually looks a bit like Dave Grohl with his stringy black hair tied behind his head) lays down a fill like he’s loading a canon. And then comes the squall-a dense bang that engorges just like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” Now tell me you’ve heard anything more badass in the last month than when Dupuis rhymes “supernova” with “nice to know ya.” Besides a couple of overdubs, the track was recorded live and all together, which hints toward how powerful a KC Qulity show might be.
Side B of the release, “Jackshit,” tweaks the formula a bit. Instead of utilizing the dynamics between verse and chorus, it strings you along for two and three quarter minutes with the increasing promise of something huge. The listener rides a groove built off a moody acoustic riff until a glitchy, Phil Selway-listening-to-DJ Shadow beat enters with a soft warning-siren of feedback. Then, at said two-and-three-quarter-minute mark, all but the feedback cuts out for a brief moment before the song is launched into the stratosphere, fulfilling the promise the track had offered up to now.
“Jackshit” was recorded at a creative performing arts camp for children in Connecticut-during an electrical power outage, no less-that Fader and Dupuis worked at as counselors last summer. Fader made use of the tiny “sound studio” where he gave his daily drumming lessons. “It was this 10-foot by 10-foot, bathroom-sized space,” said Fader. “It’s basically a little shed with a drumkit and a couple of amps.” Dupuis, who taught songwriting workshops, was assisted by one of her students for the song’s lyric-a mini-narrative about Jack and the Beanstalk. “Every day the kids would come and think of a topic and they’d have half an hour to write a song for it,” said Dupuis. “And some idiot was like, ‘BEANS will be the songwriting topic of the day!” ‘ The sound collage in the outro of the song was pieced together by Fader, who carried around a Salvation Army tape recorder all summer and captured any sonic blips and bits that piqued his interest. One such bit included on the track is the camp’s Eastern European kitchen staff singing while huddled around a piano after camp hours. “I don’t know what the hell…it’s some sort of song from home,” said Fader. “It’s either the Czech or Polish national anthem.” Whichever, Fader hurried to his bunk to grab the recorder, fumbling with the tape on the sprint back up the hill. “I got like 35 seconds of them singing this song,” said Fader. “It sounded awesome.” Indeed.
KC Quilty, in the early stages of their existence, have created a batch of songs (the band released a split 7-inch on December 10 and will release their first full LP Clover/Coriander on January 22) that manages to summarize the good bits of an historical period that a ton of music fans hold a fondness for. And instead of coming off as a tired retread, it feels entirely new among their audacious, genre-breeding contemporaries. It’s directness in style-ripping is not the result of a failure to birth new ideas; it’s the result of the confidence KC Quilty has in its taste and abilities. There are those who strive on crafting new forms of sound and those who strive on streamlining a pre-existing formula. The contemporary music scene survives on both. It’s just a refreshing breath of 15-year-old air to hear a band choose the latter.