A stink-eye of a guitar lick kickstarts "Last Day on Earth," the one-minute-and-40-second second track on Kinski's Cosy Moments. It's a change of pace for the Seattle quartet, a band that spent the better part of the 2000s shifting from quiet to loud in ways that bettered Mogwai's volume contrasts. Kinski also hasn't put out an album since 2007's Down Below It's Chaos, where elements of the amplifier oomph that put the hair-parting volume-bursts into 2003's Airs Above Your Station were tempered into somewhat more conventional rock, and which prominently featured guitarist Chris Martin's vocals for the first time. Songs still stretched out, just in a different way: In "Passwords and Alcohol," a melodic rock stomp eventually bleeds into the song's wall of feedback around the five-minute mark. It's a song structure that suggested a band trying to combine its version of a 1970s guitar-riffs groove with its considerable gifts for sinus-clearing power simply by stitching them together end to end. It works, sure, but the seams show.
Cosy's "Last Day" runs right into the even more turbo-charged "Skim Milf," another under-two-minutes scorcher that barrels along at an insolent clip and props up Martin's sunburst, teenage-wasteland vocals. "You take, what's owed/ create, let's go/ One high, one low/ Want you, in tow." As the cheeky title implies, it's an impish id of a song, its lyrics blunt statements of wanton desire that manage to squeeze a fuzz-tone guitar solo into its blink-and-you-missed-it running time. And it's one of many instances on the album that shows Kinski has figured out how to smelt its Richard Serra-like slabs of monolithic post-rock guitar down into a muscle-car psych-rock chassis. Cosy Moments is the latest update of classic-rock impudence from the Pacific Northwest-see also: Mudhoney's more-than-solid new Vanishing Point, which nods at the gearhead '70s in its title-and that it sounds like an undiscovered nugget from 40 years ago is one of its more endearing traits.
What's most instantly grabbing about it, though, is that it's just a fun guitar album. Martin and guitarist Matthew Reid-Schwartz have always complemented each other well, just in different ways than they do now. In the slow burn 2000s, they reaped rewards through patience and timing. Airs Above Your Station's leadoff track is a nearly 10-minute exercise in restraint. An ambient synth-wash paints that subtle backdrop for a plaintive guitar line for the first five minutes, slowly building to a filling, rattling twin-guitar explosion. On Cosy's "Riff DAD," Martin and Schwartz launch into the song with that simpatico crunch already in place, allowing bassist Lucy Atkinson and drummer Barrett Wilke to put the rump-shaking low end into the instrumental song's strut. It's a hip-wiggling jolt, part party-as-a-verb good time and psychedelic swirl that, to these ears at least, is perennial brain candy when done sincerely, well, and with gusto.
The benchmark in that category remains the inimitable Wayne Rogers, who from Crystalized Movements and Vermonster through B.O.R.B. and on up to Major Stars continually delivers bell-bottomed 1970s-guitar scuzz as if that shit grows on trees. Martin doesn't have Rogers' naturally blissed-out voice, but he's got a casual huskiness that more than capitalizes on the album's stick-shift attitude. "Throw it Up" moves along at a comfortably brisk pace as Martin all but sighs the seen-it-all-before first verse: "Maybe you've been here too long, already heard the song/ it plays again and again." It's a knowing way to acknowledge the throwback sound, but it sits so insouciantly in the pocket of the song's groove that it doesn't feel like a winking in-joke. Instead, Martin continues with the verse's update of classic-rock restlessness with, "The town just feels so small feel like you've done it all/ driving 'round in circles again." "Throw it Up" parlays this trapped-by-geography feeling into an escapist reverie, becoming the sound of effortlessly driving up an empty coastline highway with the RPMs almost into the red. "Conflict Free Diamonds" and "Counterpointer" go in a different direction, delivering the stoner-rock goods. Atkinson and Wilke do the heavy lifting on "Diamonds," providing the thump under which Martin and Schwartz trade jabbing riffs, while "Counterpointer" rumbles along in that ramshackle rush that barely divides classic-rock riff from Lower East Side-punk insolence, a sneer the band returns to on the punk-y album closer, "Let Me Take You Through My Thought Process," another just-over-a-minute-long dash.
As solid as these moments are, there's evidence that Kinski hasn't totally abandoned the patient buildup just yet. In "We Think She's a Nurse," Atkinson and Wilke establish a meandering pulse over which Martin and Schwartz do outright lava lamp-and-love beads trippy guitar work. It's a moment of still-life pretty in Cosy's pedal-to-the-metal mettle-artist Matthew Porter's cover-art photo of a car getting serious air over an urban street totally calibrates the brain for what it's going to hear on the album-but it's not the only time Kinski downshifts. "A Little Ticker Tape Never Hurt Anybody" is the album's standout cut, a mid-tempo instrumental of nervous energy. It moves along at jittery beat that recalls Sonic Youth's "Schizophrenia," over which Martin and Schwartz ply their fuzzed-out Cosy guitar textures to more sculptural, mood-altering ends. It's a head-trip tune but in a different way from the rest of the album. And it's not entirely a return to the band's early sound. The guitar distortion is messier. The rhythms are less steamrolling. The mood is less one-dimensional. And the overall effect is more deliciously nuanced. Where Kinksi circa Airs About Your Station might've used dramatic volume shifts to reach for the sublime-in effect, relying on the abrupt leaps between extremes-Kinski in "A Little Ticker Tape Never Hurt Anybody" tries to get there as subtly as possible. And if Kinski can retrofit its post-rock into boss riffs, there's no reason it can't keep going and deliver its own two-lane blacktop take on Middle Earth '70s prog.
Kinski plays the Metro Gallery April 12 with Liquor Bike and Caustic Cassanova.