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Live, UK duo The KVB set their music against a backdrop of projected visuals. With the recent death of Lou Reed, whose band, The Velvet Underground, weren’t restricted by their use of audiovisual spectacles, it’s easy to reflect on just how influential this sound and colour symbiosis has been to contemporary music. So it’s interesting that The KVB’s music alone, without any accompanying landscapes or tangible swirls of colour, can feel so heavy and restrictive, particularly on new album, Minus One.
Minus One pulls the band’s influences further into the foreground: The Cure’s early gothic phase, the pulsating no-wave of Suicide, the krautrock rhythms of Neu! and the embryonic shoegaze of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Nicholas Wood and Kat Day recorded everything DIY-style over just five days, ready for Anton Newcombe (of The Brian Jonestown Massacre fame) and his A Recordings label to do the heavy lifting.
Even from the reverberant snares of Again & Again, Minus One suggests a love for the mechanical repetition of 80s post-punk. A wall of swirling guitar noise interrupts, with Wood’s nonchalant ghost-vocals drowning inaudibly in the middle of the mix. Part of the mystery of The KVB’s aesthetic is the fact that Wood often sounds like he’s just humming vague melodies on what might be the band’s third or fourth demo-take. You only catch words and phrases now and then, as if you’re putting together a sonic jigsaw or lining up letters on a Ouija board.
The restrictiveness of Minus One doesn’t come from a lack of energy, but in an ironic twist of physics, from a lack of dynamism. The dreary, static drum rhythm of Passing By — the album’s worst track by some distance — ends up acting like a sort of meditative filler. It’s clear that the band’s last album, Immaterial Visions, which was released earlier this year, is holistically spikier and more melodically detailed than its successor.
There are moments, though, where the terrifically relentless motorik rhythms of Minus One have a visceral, affecting quality to them. The pulses settle in and begin to slowly pick away at your psyche, but not in a destructive way. The appropriately titled Dominance / Submission is testament to this. You become entranced by its quick-hitting guitars and spiralling, hollow spaces.
Minus One highlights the potency of music that has a dark, mysterious undercurrent. Endless even sounds like a nod to The Cure’s Play For Today, with some sawtooth synthesiser added for extra grit. Yet The KVB’s music still washes itself right past you just as much as it grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you violently. It numbs you just as much as it jerks you awake.