KAGOULE, Idiot King, MAO, 19/8/16
Paul Hobson, director of Modern Art Oxford, is explaining in a pre-gig talk how pieces in the gallery’s 50th anniversary celebrations are occasionally moved to create new contexts. Fresh dialogues can indeed be created between artworks through adjacency, but sometimes transplanting a whole art form from one milieu to another can reduce it to the status of curio. It takes a while to get over the impression that Kagoule, a young Nottingham grunge-inflected trio airlifted from a sticky-floored gig dungeon to the austere MAO basement space, are specimens to de studied, sprawling on a pin, especially immediately after a short yam-hacking performance piece by artist Nacheal Catnott warning of the dangers of cultural appropriation. Then again, as a pop band on the grindcore charnel roster that is Earache Records, perhaps the band is used to looking out of kilter.
Perhaps it’s this cultural displacement, but the first couple of numbers pass us by, seeming to deflate Mudhoney’s dumb scuzzy zeppelins of marsh gas to create the sort of light, harmless balloons bounced around by Superchunk. All very pleasant, but hardly masterpieces to be recalled at the gallery’s 100th birthday. Then, the paranoid eddy of a Sebadoh style repeated phrase catches our ear, the anti-mantra honing our attention on a band with a surprisingly subtle melodic sense. The songs may sound simple, but Cai Burns’ guitar is fascinatingly fluid, seemingly always in transition, eliding notes and greasily sliding between chords – plus, he makes good use of that deserted warehouse chorus sound found in the space between new wave and goth. His vocals also repay attention, at first sounding like a half-arsed sneer, but eventually revealing a delicate reedy tunefulness that we’re surprised to find recalls Par Wiksten from The Wannadies. What truly lifts the band, though, are Lucy Hatter’s basslines, which capture a little of The Pixies’ dark enormity and a lot of Jah Wobble’s mecha-dub relentlessness.
Kagoule have their faults, they seem uncomfortable ending songs, and there’s an occasionally sticky lack of rhythmic fluency between passages, but there are lots of ideas and idiosyncratic pleasures to reward anyone prepared to give their grubby pop a close listen. Looks like Paul Hobson had the right idea all along.