The Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA has done a lot of good for music fans over the years, but the thing we’re most thankful for in recent history is helping to introduce us to The Kickdrums. Comprised of producer/singer/songwriter Alex Fitts and DJ/producer Matt Penttila, the Brooklyn duo have been making fusion rock/rap for quite some time. Now, they’re attempting to parlay their success with mixtapes into their debut full-length, Meet Your Ghost. The end result, though, is one that’s as confusing and exhilarating as their mixed bag technique.
The first half of the album in particular plays host to several of the record’s more pleasing numbers. “3 Colors” is a great example of their skills at synthesizing a number of different cultures and genres. As a base, there’s the trademark drum machine and sounds and effects found throughout hip-hop and dance music. Then, added on to all of that with the skill of a surgeon, a menacing break-beat to help deliver an air of darkly-tinted uncertainty. Demonstrating the thread of pop sensibility that will emerge in the remainder of the record, the chorus is bright and booming. “Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” is an equally complex if not wholly different construction. Structurally, its standard beats and guitar instrumentation aren’t nearly as involved as some of the other tracks on the album, but it’s a powerfully catchy example of the impact a lighter touch can have. It’s also got a cameo by rapper Curtain$, the only guest spot on the LP, to add some sonic variety to it and lean it toward a more standard hip-hop banger.
Even as they weave cut after cut to show off their abilities as musical wunderkinds, the group also understand the power of great lyrics. Exemplified in the album’s “hit” song “Perfect World” (which comes a bit later in the album), the pair add new levels of interest to the themes of finding happiness in a chaotic world, the ever-changing emotional state of being a youth in 2011, love lost and love found, and much more to thick, grimy guitars and pitch-perfect beats.
As killer as they can be, the band also suffers the ill effects of songs that, at their very core, feel overdone and vastly over-inflated emotionally. The aforementioned tracks all detail a pair of guys who are in touch with their emotions and vulnerabilities, but express them in a very witty, self-deprecating kind of way. In “Naked”, though, that worldview crumbles under the weight of a cliched ambient beat, uninspiring vocals, and a general lack of any and all real substance to make this something beyond trash from the island of boring lite rock. “Travel Should Take You Places” is slightly better, but it too gets lost in its own sense of otherworldliness and is sorely missing even the slightest rock groove.
Both cuts work to highlight a core problem of the band: blending sounds and genres makes them unique and talented, but that formula of what they cull from and when isn’t perfect, leading to potentially uninteresting and unnecessarily intricate cuts. Yes, the band’s offerings are best when they’re keeping an ace or two up their sleeve. By revealing too much, and thus going too far over the deck into a frothy mess of feigned sentiments, they’re taking away from their base appeal and ruining already wonderfully rich soundscapes.
Meet Your Ghost will still go down as a fairly perfect introduction of the band to the world at large. The highs, those wondrous examples of multi-genre mastery, are high enough. Plus, even the lowest of the lows, orchestral-fueled chunks of pure saccharine sentimentality, are more a sign of a band still growing than anything else. Even with some of the missteps they encounter during the record, its still as fresh sonically as anything else out there across a number of genres. All in all, we’d like to think RZA would be proud.