Kowloon Walled City, Oakland’s favorite little doom-cloud, are back after six years with their newest album Piecework, released by Neurot Recordings. This relentlessly bleak collection is the perfect soundtrack for the slide into another Winter in post-apocalyptic COVID America.
Kowloon Walled City is a difficult band to pin down stylistically. They get lumped into the sludge movement that emerged in the early 2000s and was heralded by bands like YOB, Helm’s Alee, and Inter Arma. But although the tempo is generally slow and the mood heavy, the instruments are only lightly distorted, more akin to Slint than Pallbearer. Where you might expect screaming, vocalist Scott Evans locates himself somewhere between a yell and mild singing. And yet he doesn’t fall into the camp of shout poetry as with Being as an Ocean or early mewithoutyou. Are they post-rock, post-hardcore, sludge, doom, slowcore, or some other post/core iteration? Does it really even matter? The answer is “no,” and unless you’re some kind of gatekeeping purist, classifications should only serve to better understand the music. So, if any of these genres or band comparisons pique your interest, then do not sleep on Kowloon Walled City.
On to the album. Brutal without losing clarity, sparse without being boring, minimalist in sound and yet intricate in composition, Piecework emphasizes the whole product rather than individual tracks. At times songs seem to blend into one another, which creates a foreboding atmosphere that only gets heavier as the minutes tick by. This is the sound of slowly sinking into quicksand.
Take the bass line in “Oxygen Tent,” for example. Synced up with the drums while the guitars drop out, it is so simple and yet downright nasty in tone, foreshadowing the poetic doom that is about to beset the listener.
The lyrics reflect the dourness of the overall mood on Piecework. On “Lampblack,” Evans laments: “Run for the exit but you spin so fast you can’t see. You’ll never get away that way, when you spin so fast, you can’t see.” His words echo the general malaise of the last year and a half, the looming darkness that our culture cannot seem to escape as we try to put on our brave faces, holding our collective breaths until some new fresh hell erupts.
Piecework reflects the times we are living in. And although it may not always feel good to intentionally experience the darkness of this kind of anti-escapist art, it can be cathartic to realize that we are not alone in our struggles. You can listen to Piecework on your streaming platform of choice and connect with the band on bandcamp, Twitter, and at inthewalledcity.com.