Apparently, Kagoule chose their name because they wanted something with the letter “O” in the middle to look good on posters, which is as good a reason as any, but kagoules are pretty 90s, aren’t they. Combined with their clear Smashing Pumpkins influences it means they’d be easy to pigeonhole. That is, if they weren’t so bloody good. And they are; Urth is one of the best debut albums of the year.
Opener ‘Gush’ is all tightly-wound guitar riffs that flex into life with a real power in the chorus that belies the fact that they’re barely out of their teens. The Sonic Youth-style screeching solo is a sign of things to come. There’s a uncommon maturity on display which is probably due to the combination of their sound palette and the fact that the songs aren’t about, you know, being teenagers. What they are about, mind you, is anyone’s guess. The press release talks about a one winged half man/half amphibian creature and conscious tables but fortunately they’re lyrically oblique enough not to come across as daft. ‘Mike’ is the point at which they’re at their most arch: “We had a son/He had no muscles” is about as weird as it gets, which they later admit “He’s based on nothing”.
Urth is all controlled chaos, and single ‘Glue’ is the perfect example. The anticipated explosion of energy that you expect from the chorus doesn’t come immediately. Instead the main chorus is understated, a step back from the edge that tricks you into thinking they’re unwilling to take the plunge. That anticipation pays off with the subsequent blast of guitar. The song would be nothing without the spray-on-tight rhythm section of bassist Lucy Hatter and drummer Lawrence English, content to allow Cai Burns’ guitar to twist and contort around them, alternating between providing colour and chunks of muscular distortion.
The shortest track on the album, ‘Empty Mug’, is the only point at which the tension at the heart of the band threatens to boil over, Lucy’s screamed vocals genuinely thrilling. That this minute-and-a-half of punk is then followed by the space rock micro-epic instrumental of ‘Greenbeefo’ speaks volumes about their ambition. Former single ‘Made of Concrete’ was apparently written when they were just fifteen because Cai had bought a delay pedal. It stands out on the album, not (just) because of its liberal use of delay, but the minor key melody and Lucy’s lead conjure a different mood to, say, the likes of ‘Open Mouth’ which follows it. Where Cai’s distinctive singing style is to almost lazily hang behind the beat, the band’s finer moments are when both voices combine as on the chorus of closer ‘It Knows It’.
There’s no question about it though, Urth is a brilliant record and Kagoule are one of the most exciting new bands in the country. When I saw them play about eighteen months ago, I was struck by how much they reminded me of early Placebo (this is very much A Good Thing, for the record). Listening to Urth, I don’t even know why. Kagoule are not just another grunge revival band; they’re taking their influences and building something new out of them. That name though. As much as I’d like to, I’m not about to buy a t-shirt with Kagoule on it, you know?