Four albums into this form, bandleader Kyle Gervais (ex-Cosades, ex-Grand Hotel) has explored a lot of sounds since he began his KGFREEZE project in 2013, from R&B-meets-funk ass-wigglery to angular, incisive indie-rock. But on Scapegoat, released this spring at a trim 10 songs and 24 minutes, Gervais's gestural of dismissal to the genre explorations and contrivances of previous albums is dramatic. Gone are the funky affectations of Hypocrite; the party-ready dance-rock of Volunteer, the lo-fi weirdo-soul of Sociopath. With a band of new personnel and a seemingly rebooted mission, Scapegoat prioritizes energy over composition, action over ambition.
And to this listener, holy shit it works. The result is a record that's frankly, unabashedly, furiously one of the most enjoyable local records I've heard all year.
Chief among the reasons for this is that Scapegoat restores Gervais to his strengths as a live performer — namely, his enviable gift for summoning a cathartic, duende-like energy. This pairs well with his impressively dynamic vocal range, through which Gervais is capable of conveying profound emotion at ecstatic levels of intensity. From the opening moments of the title track, Scapegoat bulldozes the listener with melody, gust and propulsion, urged ahead by brother Chris Gervais's dynamic, thunderous drumwork and Kyle's own soaring, throaty vocals. A sneakily-only-midtempo rock single, "Scapegoat" may not be the sort of summer anthem you play on the way to the beach, but I'd be psyched to hear it on repeat wearing headphones while biking through the sweltering city. (Everyone's different.)
One of the project's signature traits of the KGFREEZE project has been its systematic packaging. Each album bears a nine-letter title; each cover a portrait of Gervais or a patrilineal member of his family. I can't speculate what's going on there — are these concept albums or it just empty branding? — but the choices are strong enough to indicate that careful design and consideration goes into them.
But while Gervais is tasked, in 2017, to be the chief marketer and producer of his own records, he doesn't suffer from the paralyzing concerns about marketability that afflicts so many musicians in the same spot. On Scapegoat, those fucks are clearly not given. Refreshingly, it's an album of action and intention. I can't make out all the lyrics and I don't doubt they're thoughtful, but every sonic decision is clearly born from of absolution and execution, decisions made and performed. The sounds are a bit different, but releases this urgent, abrasive, and purgative that nonetheless remain so listenable bring to mind records like At the Drive-In's Relationship of Command and Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime — albums that don't let listeners catch their breath.
The past five years have entered Gervais into collaborations with some of the most prolific, respected musicians in the city, a group that includes Dean Ford, Ian Riley, Lady Essence, Jared Fairfield, Jeff Beam, Sara Hallie Richardson, Derek Gierhan, Dominic Lavoie, Renee Coolbrith, and Spose. But maybe none fit as well as the band he deploys on Scapegoat, with whom Kyle seems truly at home. So smooth and undemonstrative are the opening bars of "Private in Public" that the track barely registers in 10/8, and loses no momentum as it courses through a twitchy, odd-tempoed chorus. Like something off a Botch or Deftones album, "Seyton" is maybe the heaviest song in Gervais's repertoire, but the band pulls it off without it seeming like some airy post-hardcore tribute act. And highlight "On The Hill" balances Kyle's knack for wriggling out compelling vocal melodies among the the most sinewy guitar leads before the song storms off into its two-minute sunset.
These days, the term "punk" is either meaningless or a slur. Regardless, Scapegoat isn't a punk record. It's a rock album the kind most people no longer care to make. You won't hear it in coffee shops. It won't play in your favorite bar. But for this summer, when it's widely reported that nothing matters anymore and fuck-it vibes ride colossally high, it's a pretty satisfying way to burn through half an hour.
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