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Kylesa’s Ultraviolet: Light My Way

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High expectations can kill a solid album; in fact, they do more often than not. That’s why it took me a few spins to really dig Kylesa’s Ultraviolet, which— SHOCKINGLY — I really do. After Static Tensions and its great qualitative leap forward (even for an already-excellent band), they made an inadvertent promise that each following release would be better than the last. And even though I did like Spiral Shadow — Tensions’ follow-up — there was some considerable wheel-spinning on it. But there were interesting tendrils of ideas poking out, leading one to think, perhaps, that its successor would be a huge advancement for the band, probably being the best thing they’ve ever done, putting it on the same level as Vertigo, Pliny the Elder, the 70s Cincinnati Reds, or sex.

And — SHOCKINGLY — it’s not quite that. Which is fine, because Ultraviolet finds the band returning to their forward momentum. Lush and experimental yet thoughtful and tight, it’s easily among Kylesa’s finest. It’s simultaneously familiar (even hearkening back to their heavy To Walk a Middle Course-ian roots) and slingshots the band out of their comfort zone (and over the heads of the loathsome hipster faction of their fanbase). It’s got something for every Kylesa lover: sludgy weight, a heavy take on shoegaze (call it sludgegaze), stoner-friendly expansiveness, and copious hooks in the middle of all of that. After figuring out how to say what they wanted to say on Static Tensions, Ultraviolet begins the process of what they want to say.

Which brings me to my initial misgivings about Ultraviolet: the songs feel shorter than usual. “Exhale” and “We’re Taking This” feel clipped off right before they’re ready to make their point. But a few times through, you realize that they’ve already made it, just differently. The album’s songs are so densely packed that they reach the same heights it took them six and seven minutes to reach on (the still-tremendous) Time Will Fuse Its Worth. In less than 40 minutes, they take you between both poles of their sound: carrying a faithful tether back to their early days as well as nakedly flaunting their love of indie rock (“Low Tide” sounds like a burly outtake from The Cure’s Disintegration). Kylesa have never been shy about the fact that they’re a multi-headed beast, but Ultraviolet may be the truest expression of the wildly varying nature of the band’s personality thus far.

And that band sound tremendous here. While Laura Pleasants continues to grow as a vocalist—she’s evolved from screamer who occasionally flatly croons into Kim and Kelly Deal’s moody sister — the real surprise is Phillip Cope, Kylesa’s vocally punk half, who turns in a surprisingly moving performance on “Low Tide.” The rest just sounds enormous and rich, with both drummers rarely drawing attention to themselves to focus on adding an extra percussive layer, as the band play around in the boundaries of what they are. But seeing as those boundaries are even hazier than they were a few years ago, there’s a lot more room to play. One could argue it’s almost perverse for a band trying to do this much to release an album of Ultraviolet’s length. But packed in as tight as it is, there’s twice as much to miss.

Kylesa’s Ultraviolet comes out May 28 on Season of Mist. You can stream the track “Vulture’s Landing” below and pre-order the album here.

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