“Rap is the new rock n’ roll,” Kanye West declared in a passionate 2013 interview with Zane Lowe, and whether you like it or not, he’s right. Any passing glance at how Top 40 has change over the past 35 years will confirm mainstream radio’s transition into pop and hip-hop. Even major rock releases this year from genre mainstays like Foo Fighters and Weezer were quickly set aside in favor of the stronger, more youthful voices of artists like Open Mike Eagle and Big K.R.I.T.
Ultimately, this leads us to a larger conversation centered around age, privilege and politics, but short of (re)writing a thesis about the importance of hip-hop in 2017, I offer you this: rock music, as a general genre tag, is dead in the water. Where it continues to thrive, however, is in niche markets – select corners of internet forums like this one and on DIY airwaves, where new bands attempting to revive everything from dream-pop to post-punk are offered equal opportunities to share their vintage visions. One such place is DKFM, an L.A.-based radio station operated by shoegaze blog When The Sun Hits, where cuts from Kindling’s massive new album, Hush, have become regular rotation.
As a shoegaze album, Hush feels nostalgic for a number of reasons. First, it’s tied to the sounds of both the early 90s and the 2010s – equal parts mbv and Pity Sex. Kindling’s songwriting is comfortable and consistent, rarely overreaching but always nailing a unique blend of lush production and high-octane guitar riffs. There are moments on the record that feel familiar, from the lethargic chord progression of “Wait” to the spacious, Mazzy Star-esque atmosphere of “Rain.” The band even utilizes a distorted sitar on certain tracks, a trick most reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie’s 1998 debut Something About Airplanes.
But this is precisely why referring to Hush as simply a “shoegaze album” would be doing it a disservice; what Kindling achieves by way of imitation and translation of their aforementioned influences requires meticulous thought and an impressive technical skill set. Listening to Hush for the first time is like hearing an album you played to death growing up for the first time in a decade; it is the sound of a band that is able to forge an aethetic beyond their music. And Kindling wear their influences on their sleeves with no detriment to themselves as their songwriting tends to funnel these familiar feelings and sounds into something leaner and clearer than most of their current peers seem capable of.
Perhaps Kindling will try to push further boundaries with their next project, but for the time being, they can take pride in the fact that they’ve created something special – the kind of record that seems as happy denying genres as it does defining them. From the firey hook of opener “For Olive” to the crushing closing chords of “Wet Leaves,” Hush delivers a 40-minute testimony to youth, musical subculture and DIY creation. Sometimes, it takes more insight to navigate the past than it does to dictate the future.