By Chris Gray
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KayfabeThe Hellen Keller Tapes Kayfabe
Redundant. That's the overriding impression of Kayfabe's new EP, The Hellen Keller Tapes. The trio's execution is solid, but the material is so unoriginal and ponderous that it hurts to open your ears to it.
Formed in 1996, Kayfabe, formerly known as Hellen Keller (the misspelling is apparently intentional), plays music meant for head-banging, if that were still fashionable. The thunderous drumming, dreary guitar pounding and vital abundance of bass demand some vicious head-nodding at the very least.
The opening track, "Snapmare," begins with an inviting snare drum, then adds layers of a clobbering combination of drums and guitar that underscores each set of lyrics. For about two and a half minutes, the song seems promising, but the band is too quick to the chorus. The rest of the tune alternates blandly between the chorus and verses.
For the most part, Jeremy Sumrall's drumming is lively and engaging. He doesn't play the drums as much as he pounds them, but not too much as to dominate the songs. One exception in which the percussion fails is the second track, "Tuffy," which he peppers with a cowbell-like jangle that seems out of place and a little silly.
Bass player Kolby McKinney does his job, but hardly in any exceptional way. Chris Roberts's vocals and lyrics are consistently mediocre. His delivery, a kind of slowed-down, strained yell is merely appropriate. It's not that his voice lacks emotion, rather that he displays the same emotion, that of a person overcoming exhaustion through forced anger, in nearly every song. His voice is most successful during the quieter interludes, when he does without his Kurt Cobain-ish whine.
Roberts's delivery is even enjoyable at times, like on "Ashed," which stands out from the other tracks because there's this guitar wash that sounds like an airplane flying in and out of the song. This tune's airier, less cluttered feel meshes well with the opening lyrics: "Truth that I'm guessing / Truth that I'm guessing / I feel no contentment / Will I make it?" They're probably the most poignant words on the EP. Roberts sings the chorus, "I could die. It's all right," with such hostile resignation that you wouldn't be surprised if he committed suicide by impaling himself on his guitar.
The last two tracks are the best candidates for generating headaches. While Sumrall's low-rumbling pounding in "Window Smear" is soothing, even in its harshness, the song is imminently forgettable. "Strawberrybomb" drones on for five minutes with a monotonous guitar riff that oscillates between just a few notes. If you sliced the song into three or four parts, then rearranged them, the song would sound pretty much the same. The only indication that it's nearing its end is a steady crescendo, which is unnecessary at that point. While some bands, most notably Shellac, can achieve a minimalist trance through diligent repetition, Kayfabe fails to build on its repetition. The result is just boring.
Overall, the album suffers from an odd lack of any discernible or memorable melodies. Kayfabe's music isn't bad; it's just bland in that heavy-metal, wince-inducing way. There are moments on this album in which the guitar and drums simultaneously attack with a precise vibrancy, but these moments can't overcome the general dullness. Let's avoid any obvious Helen Keller jokes and just warn that no one should quit his day job yet. As Roberts sings on "Snapmare," "And your music's all same, I don't want it anyway."