This Is The Kit – Careful Of Your Keepers: Album Review

A greater focus pays dividends to the magpie alt-folk of Kate Stables, as she expands and brightens her palette.

Release Date: 9th June 2023

Label: Rough Trade

Format: CD/vinyl/cassette/digital

With quirky horn arrangements and slightly off kilter time registers, Kate Stables moves ever more inexorably away from indie-folk, if she were ever really there, into further gleefully uncharted waters, often strongly jazz inflected, with world(l)y tropes leaking in, perhaps from her Paris domicile. This Is The Kit, she being the kit, to all intents and purposes, and that her nom de tune, feel at a pivotal moment, ready to break out from being mid bill festival favourites to somewhere more prestigious, and, y’know, this could be the one. With usual culprits on hand to add instrumental ballast, Rozi Plain, bass/vocals, Neil Smith, guitar and Jamie Whitby-Coles, drums, together with any number of additional keyboards, brass and woodwinds, it is quite a ride. Buckle up!

Goodbye Bite starts things off with a confident swagger, the title giving the flavour of the mood intended. Think a goodbye kiss, but with teeth. A polyrhythmic shuffle, with light and breezy guitar, the horns come slowly bleeding in, midway through the second verse. Her voice a soothing call to awareness. A beguilingly attractive track, it is the perfect opening, ahead of Inside, Outside. Again the rhythm section is in constant consternation, for this one, as Stables sings another warning, her accent slipping into estuary. The guitar adds counterpoints, the horns simmer. A typically questioning lyric provokes the listener to recognise internal forces before those external engulf them. Take You To Sleep opens with banjo, the vocal line at a crossroads to it, as the backing slots in, that banjo remaining a constant recurring tinkle. An orthodox horn riff dip in, straight from Muscle Shoals, ahead a full on bebop sax solo, neither appropriate to the whole, yet managing to be a perfect fit. So much so that the sudden stop has you look up, both wanting and expecting more. Some of the credit must surely be due to producer, that Super Furry Animal, Gruff Rhys, or, as Stables has it, her “tonesetter”. I think of it as if a toolsetter sets tools, and, assuming so, the Welshman is playing a blinder. Plus, of course, the horn arrangements of Mr. Stables, aka Jesse Vernon.

More Change is then a balmy bit of samba, evocative of a sunny day, the message around maintaining friendship above all: “holding hands“, as all else changes around you. Guitar and piano are the tonal leads here, with some lovely sotto voce backing vocals. This Is Where The Sky Gets Big continues with that slight Latin infusion, and the vocals, deceptively breezy, continue to convey a message, this time of hope and optimism. Latin again, Scabby Head And Legs, one of the, um, more unusual titles to be broached this year. A cascade of competing notes and sonic textures mix and merge to gradually build into a shimmery middle section. By now the realisation that this is a very well crafted record is gelling firm, and a step up from before.

Careful Of Your Keepers, with a slow bluesy piano and bass intro sounds, of all people, like mid to late Joni Mitchell, her voice even catching a timbre or two, especially in the phrasing. Some vibes would be perfect, with, lo and behold, there they are. with the slight change in mood, if no less impenetrable in meaning: something around favouring and respecting the old, makes this a worthy title track. Doomed Or More Doomed shears off again, fingerpicked guitar and a crooned vocal, ahead a motorik drumbeat and walking bass, with a rollingly elegiac piano and fuzz guitar, all competing for attention, all winning. Another song with a question, question within a song, offering choice. One feels a lot of opportunities are being offered on this record, however unclear they seem at first exposure. Inviting, therefore, needing, demanding even, further immersions.

Stuck In A Room carries just that feeling of entrapment, the song going around and around itself, a mantra of phrases. Delibrately claustrophobic, peals of notes crash and collide in a melèe that contrives to both appeal and annoy. In similar style, the closing number, Dibs, eases out of that furrow, as the horns and vibraphone, underpinning her vocal, beckon in some found direction, a quietly hypnotic mood coalescing, the percussion gradually absorbing everything else, as repeated choral vocals fade, before a reprise of the opening coda, with added surf guitar. As I said, these are never typical or expected arrangements, this always the strength of her live performance, but the first time that has been so overtly so on disc, without the more experimental incoherences that she has sometimes brought to bear. Which makes me, really makes me, wish I could be in a field where she is playing, and soon, this having to do ,until then. (And, proving she knows well her audience, often outdoors, often festival based, her website allows you to also buy Careful Of Your Keepers plasters and toothbrush!!)

More Change? Yes, please:

This Is The Kit online: website / facebook / twitter / Instagram

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