This Is the Kit have come to save 2020 with their direct and sincere brand of folk rock. We’ve needed them. Off Off On is the band’s fifth LP directly following 2017’s excellent Moonshine Freeze – their most thoughtful and intricate record to date.
Opening track ‘Found Out’ has a more traditional folk flavour than we have previously been accustomed from the group, though Kate Stables’ idiosyncratic, lilting vocals will leave you in no doubt of who you are listening to. The pulsating banjo playing is particularly powerful – tying itself up in knots. As sweet as Stables’ voice sounds, there is serious, intense flavour to the instrumentation which makes you take notice. ‘This is What You Did’ also doubles down on a prominent banjo performance integrated into a tightly structured, surprisingly dark and meditative song. It is this album’s best track. Stables’ chorus lyrics are beautifully bitter and punishing, delivered in a deadpan voice. “This is what you get/ this is what you did/ this is what they want/ why are you still here?”
Stables gives a ghostly vocal performance on ‘No Such Thing’. She sounds sleepy and withdrawn amongst the confusing four bar loop of swirling instrumentation. It is as if she is ruminating on an argument with her other half. “I did not say that, why would I say that? That would not be.” ‘Carry Us Please’ does something similar, but less successfully. Though I do like how the title lyrics are sung and hypnotically layered over each other towards the end of the song – it’s a real moment. You get the feeling that Stables is drawing from an intense personal experience on these songs. “But look now it’s free/ started to breathe/ unfolding of wings/ carry us please.”
There are several more typical, straightforward offerings from the band on this LP, where the focus switches to the production, the resonance of the guitars, saxophones and layering of vocals. The superb single ‘Coming to Get You Nowhere’ is the band nailing this level of simplicity. It is a series of beautiful, immaculately presented, paper thin melodies which bloom into an emotionally intense whole. There is a pleasant drive to this song which comes from a slightly higher than expected tempo. One could perhaps accuse ‘Started Again’ of keeping things too simple, especially its three chord guitar riff. They get away with it though. ‘Slider’ doesn’t get away with it. It feels redundant in the context of an album which already succeeds at the subtle interplay between each member. There is no USP.
This issue comes to the fore in the last leg of the album where more songs, whilst being beautifully presented and skilfully played, simply stop offering anything new. ‘Shinbone Soap’ is a delicate and gorgeous song in its own right, but sequenced after 8 tracks with similar properties, it is tiresome. After some head scratching, the aptly named final track ‘Keep Going’ rewards our patience with its luxurious grooves which beautifully sprawl out and roll on. It sounds as if Stables is reconciling herself with a new stage in her relationship which gives the track a tranquil and gently emotive quality.
Off Off On is a consistently beautiful, well written and produced record but despite its clear qualities it has joined the pantheon of overlong LPs. Do not let this distract from the essential nature of the best tracks. Due the fundamental quality of This Is the Kit as a band, at its very worst moments this album is still an enjoyable release, even if it is not one that stands out from their enviable discography.
Off Off On is out now on Rough Trade.