Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A brief review - Chip & Tony Kinman - Sounds Like Music (2019, Omnivore)

If the monikers Chip Kinman and his brother Tony Kinman don't instantaneously flood your memory bank that wouldn't come as a shock (to me anyway).  Perhaps the names of some of their musical projects of yore would ring a bell, specifically The Dils, Rank and File, and Blackbird.  The Kinman brothers (including the sadly and recently departed Tony) were the driving force behind all three combos, not to mention an even lesser-known fourth, Cowboy Nation.  You'd think that a newly minted,  22-song compilation spanning the Kinman's quadruple-decade career would offer a comprehensive overview of their handiwork - and you'd be right...sort of.  Omnivore Record's Sounds Like Music is indeed a compendium of the duo in question, though it does not highlight "hits" (there weren't any) or career milestones (quite a few in fact), rather the emphasis is entirely on outtakes, demos, and unreleased curios.

Splitting vocal duties, Chip on guitar and Tony on the guitar with fewer strings cut their teeth in the late '70s in The Dils, an L.A. area punk trio who's minimalist and succinct approach yielded an equally scant discography, so brief (say eight songs) it might as well have fit inside a thimble.  Two singles and an EP was about the size of it to be exact, but despite the brevity of the Dils output they were responsible for bona fide nervy rants like, "Mr Big" and "I Hate the Rich," that have become nothing short of classics to punk connoisseurs.  In fact, the Dils cupboard was so damn lean, only one song by them is represented here, "Folks Say Go," a bouncy 1977 ditty, that's explores a slightly different wavelength than those aforementioned bratty and cutting 45s.

Their next endeavor, the Austin, TX-based Rank and File would become their most renown and commercially viable.  Operating almost solely on a roots/cowpunk continuum, Rank and File churned out three highly consistent albums in the '80s, all of which were infinitely more sophisticated than the Dils - then again that's not the most even comparison given the two groups divergent agendas.  Interestingly enough however, Rank and File began on a punk premise, not country.  Sounds Like Music enlightens us with two examples of the first-blush R&F sound few of us even knew existed via the band's theme song (of sorts), and the careening but melodious basher "Citizen."  Immensely revealing stuff and damn-near worth the price of admission alone.  Naturally, power chords and bratty ethos weren't what Rank and File would become renown for, so if you're looking to graze more familiar pastures, Sounds... offers four more rarities by the band in question in keeping with their twangier reputation.

If any of Chip and Tony's affiliated projects dominates this compilation, it's Blackbird, who check in with thirteen accredited numbers.  Typically, Blackbird was the most non-descript of their ventures, and in some respects left the smallest legacy - despite enjoying a brief tenure on a major label in the early '90s.  This post-Rank and File operation eschewed the bulk of the Dils/R&F's warmer, analog hues placing the emphasis on keyboards...and an omnipresent drum machine that grated on my nerves, particularly when absorbed in heavy doses.  Top this off with intermittently contrived vocals and an overarching tenor that bordered on impersonal, and voila, Blackbird comes swooping down for an oblique landing.  Nonetheless, there are melodic constructs tucked inside this band's lightweight industrial drone (check out the poignant "Old Paint"). "Dope," which tangentially channels the Doors "Twentieth Century Fox," is another minor saving grace, but the sheer amount of material presented by this idiosyncratic foray has a tendency to clash with the more earnest offerings by the Dils, Rank and File, and finally...

Cowboy Nation, who had the distinction of being the only Kinman studio entity (that we know of) to record music in the current millennium.  Three albums to be exact, all very much under the radar, skewing considerably closer to Rank and File's penchant, but with more of a traditional country flavor.  Then again, "traditional" wasn't exactly a watchword for the Kinman clanTwo C/N songs made the cut for Sounds..., an alternate take of the galloping, bilingual "Paniolo," and another swift hoedown, "Rebel," a deep cut fleshed out with equally deep vocals.  Going into this album, I had no familiarity with Cowboy Nation, but I'm compelled to dig deeper.

Despite this being the only release on the market to span the arc of Chip and Tony Kinman's entire career, I should note again that it's not a best of or anthology, rather an outtakes compendium.  In essence, Sounds Like Music is geared towards existing clientele, but it's bound to parallel as a jumping off point for listeners who are brand new to the duo.  To newbies, I'd also recommend you invest in the Dils' Dils Dils Dils compilation on Bacchus Archives, as well as the debut Rank and File LP, Sundown, not only for a primer, but as examples of what the Kinman's were capable of both in and beyond the punk realms they abundantly contributed to for so many years.  Sounds Like Music is available straight from Omnivore or Amazon.

No comments: