Here’s the deal, snobs: There’s this Danish quintet called The Kissaway Trail that gathered some steam back in 2007 after they released their debut and performed at music festivals and supported bands like The National and Interpol. They’ve got a great sound, tight composition, and some killer drums. There’s really only one problem — they’re not exactly unique.
It’s not that bands like this are a dime a dozen, but the bells and strings and orchestral intensity combined with shaky vocals on The Kissaway Trail’s latest, Sleep Mountain, sound exactly like all the other decent indie bands you’ve already heard. Basically, The Kissaway Trail is to Arcade Fire what Muse is to Radiohead. They’re not as innovative, they’re not as good, but they’ve still got a knack for making a pretty enjoyable song.
Listening to Sleep Mountain definitely has its benefits. The drums provided by Hasse Mydtskov are the most intricate and original part of the album. They’re not exactly more driven, or more danceable, or more complicated than the rest of the music. They’re just plain melodic. They interact with the rest of the band in both rhythm, emotion, and tone in a way that I rarely hear drums. These drums aren’t driving the band, they’re having a conversation with it.
The album opens up with “STP”, which exemplifies this percussion persuasion perfectly.
Chimes and flaring snare participate with the song alongside the guitar, rather than competing with it. Later in the album, tracks like “New Year” and “Beat Your Heartbeat” explore the power of the drums further.
The Kissaway Trail is a very percussion-oriented band. While the drums articulate the feelings of the songs, the guitars and vocals aren’t as comfortable with expressing genuine emotion. Lucky for us, the band recognizes this, and they play their strengths well for the most part. “Painter,” the worst song on Sleep Mountain, looses the heart it could have because the guitars attempt to be as strong as the handclaps and bass drum stomps.
The vocals on Sleep Mountain, though admittedly not as magical or attractive as the drums, also deserve a shout out. With his trembling voice, singer Thomas Fagerlund walks the fine line between poignant and annoying that only few masters of indie (Win Butler of Arcade Fire) have managed. The man sounds like a windowpane in a hurricane, his voice is constantly on the verge of collapse.
But Fagerlund doesn’t deserve full credit for the successful implementation of vocals on Sleep Mountain. All five members of the band contribute their voices to what are usually the best songs. On “New Year,” the whole band joins together in a succinct but spontaneous feeling choir of joy. Their voices aren’t one, but they have the quality of a rough and tumble ensemble of brothers.
If you’re not an indie snob, there’s a lot you could get out of Sleep Mountain. If you are, you’ll still manage to enjoy it if, and only if, you lower your expectations to see what’s in front of you. While the losers at Pitchfork can look at Sleep Mountain and scoff as they spill Pabst Blue Ribbon on their ironic T-shirts, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you didn’t let a lack of originality keep you from accepting and enjoying a more-than-decent album.