One of the most intriguing trends in UK alternative music in these post-lockdown years, perhaps fuelled by the enforced stop in touring of the early 2020s but growing seemingly ever stronger in the last year or so, has been the presence of a series of independent bands who simply refuse to play by any rules. These are artists who have been chasing sounds increasingly difficult to categorise within any single genre, often successfully introducing instruments which may have seemed out of place within their songwriting and which nevertheless work remarkably well in creating voices that are both immediately recognisable and pleasantly unique. Among such artists—which, for lack of a better label, have often been placed under the increasingly vague umbrella of post-punk, although it is now clear that this, too, does not fit them—Opus Kink stand out both for the boldness of what they are attempting to do and the very clear ideas they seem to have on how they set out to do it.
Their debut EP, ‘Til The Stream Runs Dry, was already notable for the confidence in which it wove a sequence of tracks that was almost more storytelling than simple music, within a Sergio Leone-like almost-Western atmosphere coupling punk vocals with a rowdy brass section and a compelling depth of harmonisation. They are now returning with a follow-up EP which clearly shows that they have been all but idle in the meantime, pursuing new avenues with their sound rather than resting within the niche they had found for themselves. My Eyes, Brother! is unexpected and compelling: those who approach it hoping to get more of the same might be taken aback by what they will find, but those who have a love of experimental, defiant music will rapidly fall in love with what is a challenging but deeply satisfying record.
With its seven tracks and a considerable runtime for an EP, this feels almost like a proto-album, a feeling strengthened by the fact that, rather than a collection of tracks, it clearly is a record meant to be listened to all in a row, as one cohesive piece of songwriting. The sequence of the tracks is not at random, and many are connected by bridges of sound that make them feel like chapters in a narrative: one of turmoil, self-challenge, questioning, and satisfaction. The depth of themes is supported by lyrics that are both clever and visceral: vocalist Angus Rogers has a background in poetry and spoken word, which shows both in the smart turns of phrase and in the delivery of the lyrics, going from soulful to snarling to almost recited (see ‘Piping Angels,’ a track which chooses a slower pace and is perhaps the closest to punk in the record, as an excellent example of this width of range). This poetic streak, which was already present in the band’s previous offering, is now compounded by a sound that has grown to be much more challenging, almost hostile in places to the listener, yet rewarding when—often on a repeat listen—one unpacks its many layers and carefully curated details.
There is a study of dissonance that surfaces as an overarching theme throughout the EP, and the general impression is often one of controlled chaos, the apparent disconnection hiding a notable complexity of layered sounds: often a song will gradually devolve into noise without truly losing its structure, or, in reverse, emerge with a clearly recognisable melody from an initial burst of dissonance. The opening track, ‘Chains,’ does this perhaps more than any other in the record, and it feels like a declaration of intents going in; but see also the crescendo and then transition between ‘Tin of Piss‘ and ‘Malarkey,’ the latter a stand-out song placed almost exactly in the middle of the record and showcasing all the defining features of this latest chapter in Opus Kink’s voice: the hugely versatile vocals, the brass which often departs from harmony to embrace something much more disruptive, the bass offering a consistent baseline linking it all together.
The country influences which in the debut EP compounded the punk elements to give the band a distinctive voice are still there: you might hear them most notably in the closing track, ‘1:18,’ a single that also plays with a different kind of noise, generated by distortion rather than the accretion of different layers, but they are scattered everywhere in the record. Something else has grown on top of them, though: in songs like ‘Children‘ the use of the brass section, but also the kind of rhythm, still danceable in its almost aggressive exuberance, is reminiscent of the likes of Gogol Bordello or Tankus the Henge; elsewhere, and in the opening track most of all, the way in which the sound is deliberately shattered in apparently disjointed pieces owes something to experimental jazz; and there are places in which the interplay of bass and vocals bears intriguing resemblances to the very roots of punk music (there is, at one point, something that sounds almost like an echo of The Clash’s Bankrobber).
Overall, this EP is not as easy a listen as its predecessor, and it does not aim to be: rather than invite the listener in, it throws down a gauntlet, challenging those who approach it to dig deeper and find the order within the chaos. Like the music Opus Kink have previously released, it is an exploration of visceral emotion, relentless throughout and often stark in its sincerity; what’s new is the raw feeling of much of it, which is in turn deceptive—closer consideration will show how deeply polished these tracks had to be to manage to convey this kind of erratic energy. It is an exceedingly clever record, which might throw you off your feet at first listen, but which becomes more rewarding the more one engages with it. That it does so without losing the depth and immediacy of feeling that gives Opus Kink’s music much of its power is an additional reason to praise it. There is a subtle thread of danger running through it, and this is perhaps its highest achievement: especially at a time when alternative music seems to have become scared to flirt with danger, it is enormously satisfying to see a band embrace it with such abandon.
My Eyes, Brother! is released on May 19th via Nice Swan Records.
The following UK headline dates are scheduled in support of the release of My Eyes, Brother!:
Friday, 19th May – Band on the Wall, Manchester TICKETS
Saturday, 20th May – King Tuts, Glasgow TICKETS
Sunday, 21st May – ZEROX, Newcastle TICKETS Tuesday, 23rd May – Village Underground, London TICKETS
Thursday, 1st June – Esquires, Bedford TICKETS
Friday, 2nd June – Patterns, Brighton
Photo Credit: Anya Rose