Record Reviews

Kes Band II

The all-instrumental ‘Kes Band II’ proves that you don’t need to speak or sing to produce the sublime, writes LAWSON FLETCHER.


It almost seems bland on paper: an instrumental follow-up album simply called Kes Band II. Don’t let the modesty fool you though, this might just be the finest work Karl Scullin and crew have produced, with intuitively weaved-together songs as delicate as spider’s silk, yet so texturally dense and compositionally complex you’ll find yourself taken in by them over and over.

Take 10-minute opener ?Doors Open Doors Close?, for example, a sweeping emotional suite so intimate and detailed that it sets your heart soaring. Commencing with a pretty, lyrical string and guitar duet, gentle incursions of musical buzz and errant cymbals subtly motion to the chugging drone storm that swallows its midsection. The duet is later reprised in the coda, but this time as a more melancholic waltz. Such rise and fall, instrumental juxtaposition and just brilliantly refined musicianship defines what’s to come.

Forgoing the often unbridled exuberance of Kes Band’s freak-outs, these musicians have channelled their energy into less assuming, but no less affecting compositional refinement. These are swirling, intricate arrangements that are by turns pensive and playful, gentle and lush; an utterly beautiful journey.

I say journey quite deliberately, because the album suggests a unifying, if unspoken narrative as much as it explores a series of moods. The meticulously sequenced tracks are like little scenes of a play about a boy lost in the outback – feelings of loss, regret, hope and ultimately redemption – and the cast of characters are the instruments, who move about one another with actorly grace, in a display of finely staged and effortless precision.

?Singling out highlights here, judging who plays the best, really isn’t what this album asks of you – it’s like trying to pick out the best colour on a Monet painting.?

Kes Band II never once feels like an indulgence, or worse, the product of a jam. Even if songs like ‘Trees Fall’ invite jazzy experimentation within the crevices of a repeated guitar peel, every moment of improvisation is integrated into the broader tapestry. Similarly, it’s a struggle to name a standout contributor. Every musician shines – from the yearning evocative viola of Biddy Connor to Julian Patterson’s perfectly applied drumming, whether delicately measured or brightly disjointed.

Or how about that special moment, the one that every great album is in possession of, like the inspired switch from pining dustbowl pitches to a wind-up blues slide in the coda to ‘Outs’, metamorphosing a country dirge into a brilliant classic rock stomp? Or the tongue-in-cheek tussle between a smiling violin and the mashed low-end of a piano on the playful ‘The Leyden Experiment’? Singling out highlights here, judging who plays the best, really isn’t what this album asks of you – it’s like trying to pick out the best colour on a Monet painting.

Maybe that’s a good metaphor for Kes Band II, because it really is a fucking work of art. With a mostly softened palette, the band daub and mix tone and textures within and between tracks, often reprising particular motifs later so a kind of circular pattern forms across the album. They progressively flesh out moods and ideas until they arrive at a transcendent, richly beautiful canvas whose whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

But if all this seems a bit formal, a bit writerly, then it’s only because as a critic, my analytical lens will always fail to capture what makes this album truly good. Because not once does Kes Band II seem only a compositional achievement, it’s driven by an overarching purpose: to be beautiful, to be inviting. I hesitate to invoke The Dirty Three – even if it flickers with the more haunting, softer moments of their post-rock, it’s never quite as exhausting to listen to.

Reserved and passionate, abrasive and sweet, epic and miniature, I’m running out of superlatives. It all falls away in the end, though; you don’t need to speak – or sing – to create the sublime.

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Kes Band II is out through Mistletone.