Bashed Out is carefully curated. This album, more than anything else she's created, has the potential for true commercial success. But keep this in mind, Kate Stables is more Mark Rothko than Jackson Pollock. Don't even bring up Warhol. This album is about the layers that play out in a minimalist way. Each brush stroke, each note, is purposeful. This album doesn't scream "listen to me", it gently draws you in.
These new songs don’t sound terribly different from Stables’ first recordings nearly a decade ago, but the music is bolder and more purposeful, with a broader, richer palette of sounds. Dessner works in a minimalist vein, placing a handful of instruments at various levels in the mix but never locking them into place. A barely audible bassline rocks softly against Stables’ plaintive guitar theme on opener "Misunderstanding". "Silver John" blossoms into a swell of synths (courtesy of Thomas Bartlett a.k.a. Doveman) and builds to a chorus of odd siren vocal calls. There’s a parallax quality to the music, an immersive sense of depth that makes the songs sound larger with each listen.
Even as he expands her range and emphasizes her idiosyncrasies, Dessner wisely stays out of Stables’ way, and she emerges easily as the dominant force on Bashed Out. Her guitar work is nimble but not fussy, and she conjures a sense of nameless menace on closer "Cold and Got Colder". On "Spores All Settling" her banjo playing is almost pointedly rudimentary, emphasizing the present moment rather than the perfect performance. She’s a complex and compelling personality, spiking her folksy whimsy (there’s a song about the smell of mushrooms) with shots of prickly wisdom. "And so the outside, it bashes us in, bashes us about a bit," she sings on the title track, one of the album’s weightiest moments.
Even when Stables returns to territory you’d nominally call “folk”, she’s taking it somewhere new, not hamstrung by any thoughts of Arran jumpers, finger-in-the-ear, and eyes closed musicality. Both “Spores All Settling” and “Nits” are singularly English in their approach; the former highlights Stables’ wonderful banjo playing while singing of some kind of cleansing (again with the water, just like The National) but surrounds it with an ocean of sounds that carry it off and upwards rather than drown it. That is of course tribute to Dessner’s brilliant production; at every turn there’s a moment where the listener can savour a melody or an individual instrument while never losing sight of the bigger picture. The swell of brass during the song about that most quintessentially British school infestations (it may not be about that, I’m willing to admit) is stunning, and once the piano waltzes in it becomes a heartbreaker of stadium-sized proportions.
It’s hard to find fault with Bashed Out; timeless and completely modern all at once, Stables might have taken a little bit of time to hit her stride with This Is The Kit but this combination of players has helped her realise a vision of sorts: it’s as lucid a record as you’ll hear all year.
This Is The Kit in Deutschland:
04.06.15 Hamburg, Aalhaus
05.06.15 Berlin, Antje Oklesund
06.06.15 Dresden, Discororate Festival