This Is the Kit: Off Off On (Rough Trade) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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This Is the Kit

Off Off On

Rough Trade

Oct 20, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Kate Stables’ project This Is the Kit follows 2017’s outstanding Moonshine Freeze with another impressive outing on Off Off On. Though Stables spent a fair chunk of 2019 traveling with The National in vocal support of their I Am Easy to Find tour and here attracts the ubiquitous Josh Kaufman (Muzz, Bonny Light Horseman) to produce, the core of her band has remained the same. What changes this time out is that the front two-thirds of the album is a tautly woven tapestry of sounds and challenging conversations, both internal and external. Though Stables’ lyrics repeatedly encourage taking a breath, the room to do so takes time to emerge.  

The opening “Found Out” has a quickly paced raga as its underpinning, on top of which a highly charged dialogue unfolds. One coaxes the other to uncoil as the music shows no signs of relenting:  “speak the words, let yourself breathe.” Stables gets to internal arguments and doubts on “This is What You Did,” letting a slew of unwelcome advice get the better of her. Thoughts of “this is what they want, why are you still here?” are interlaced in a web of fast-paced banjo, drums, and saxophone, that convey the struggle. The songs layer on tension worthy of the conflicts at hand. On the swirling “No Such Thing” the tape loop opening gives way to complex patterns of percussion, spiking horns, and a tangled guitar solo towards the end. It’s here that Stables’ band finally answers back to her. Stables declares “Taking it on the chin, you must stay, you must master this” to which Rozi Plain retorts, “I do not see that.”  

After a tumultuous course of crisscrossing instrumentation and conversations, the camera starts to pan out in the later parts of the album. Stables takes herself out of the conversations and stands as observer from the title track on providing a respite for herself and the listener. Though “Off Off On” deals with looking a friend’s impending loss in the face, it does so with a peaceful resolve. And even if “Was Magician” pulls from favorite author Ursula LeGuin’s fantasies, the empathy and wish for empowerment that it is delivered with is palpable. The song becomes all the more stunning of a moment of repose given the entanglements that precede it. Stables concludes with her longest song to date, the six-plus minute “Keep Going.” Fittingly it’s not only the longest song, but one that encourages hope and positivity with a languid guitar line and piano to buoy it along the way. 

Compositionally, Off Off On finds Stables at the top of her game to date. Pushed by Kaufman in new directions and with an ear towards experimentation in spots, the underlying tension of Stables’ music is spurred on by her lyrics. The blur of who is saying what to whom and how that morphs from words spoken to words remembered and repeated to oneself makes for a dizzying array. One that Stables finds within herself to allow her and her listener down from to cherish what is noble within us. Whether that be found in fact or fiction it’s all in a search for sussing out the truth. (              

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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