ALBUM REVIEW: King of the Slums – ‘Encrypted Contemporary Narratives’

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Hot – or possibly very warm, it was out a while ago – on the heels of the compilation ‘Our Favourite Trainers’ (read our review) comes a new King of The Slums album. Something which, I have to admit, was greeted with something I call ‘my happy dance’. I was, and still am, very very excited.

Importantly I got lyrics to go along with the preview stream, and studying these the album title basically sums it up. Some of the songs are rather more encrypted than others – I guess I should have expected that. Even with words in front of my eyes there are some songs that I just can’t figure out at all. Is this a problem? No, look you don’t need to understand exactly what a song is about to love it. Song meanings can be fluid, they can mean different things to different people. I know people spent hours arguing about what a song is about and attempting to set a definitive meaning, but honestly live and let live people. If you find different meanings in songs to others it’s completely valid.

There is, with each KOTS album release, a change in feel and sound. Sometimes this is big and obvious, sometimes it’s subtle and you just feel it without being able to define why. In the case of ‘Encrypted Contemporary Narratives’ musically it feels harder, it comes with something of an aggressive edge, it sounds more angular. But we live in hard, aggressive and angular times, so that’s only fitting.

‘Faux Faux La Bardot’ – the album’s opening track – is one of those songs I’ve been unable to unencrypt. On the face of it there is a narrative, which involves visiting a burlesque club, but then it gets weird and frankly rather beautifully scarily strange. Guitars stab at you, drums pop, the words come at you in a sinister tone. It’s industrial and post-punk.

We are on safer and simpler narrative ground with ‘Posh Town Witchcult’. The story of Julia who goes peculiar. It’s droney and dense, there are wonderful and beautiful sounds of viola or violin that sinuously wind their way through this track. It’s all beautifully dark.

‘Fridgehead Canoe’ is harder, more punky. Guitars riff, drums pound. There is a florist shop, a canoe on a roof rack, there is a head in a fridge and the canoe is full of money. It’s one of those KOTS songs that you know there is a story behind, and let me assure you I have spent some time Googling florists and canoes to no avail. But hey, make your own story.

And now to the epic ‘Cockroach Frequency’. Musically it sits somewhere in the intersection between punk, progressive heavy rock, post-punk and the sound of Bowie’s ‘Man Who Sold The World’. Hard sustained guitar rings out, discordant sounds crash over you, drums hypnotise. And while I have not the slightest idea what this song is about, it’s compelling, addictive, and I just let it drown me in sound. An album highlight.

A song about our right to protest, our right to protest peacefully – ‘Dissident Citizen’ – is entirely right for our times. As our rights to protest are eroded at some speed, this song stands up for that right to be upheld.

‘Snake Pass Luggage’ is one of those songs that takes some time to get, but once you do it’s obvious. The words are a conversation between two people – one of whom has found a bag full of guns, knives and drugs in a lay-by on Snake Pass. Musically it switches between a kinda half spoken word piece and a song by – and I’m sure the band must be getting tired of this reference from me – Here & Now. A sort of tribal drum beat, over which guitars roar, crash and stab.

‘Codewriter’ is another conversation song. It’s either simple and completely clear in meaning, or complex and open to interpretation. It’s a song you could make your own meaning to.Musically it’s somewhat sparser, and sinuous.

Piano is the – unexpected – lead instrument in ‘104 Words’ at least to start off. A song about, and this is something of a stab in the dark, environmental protest. A simple piano figure sounds over a sustained guitar. And then as the words end, it suddenly bursts into an electric jig, a riot of sound. It’s the most wonderful release after the first half which is full of tension.

Quite what ‘Odd Sock Drawer’ is about is unclear. It seems to celebrate oddness and individuality, but it could be about something entirely different. It’s one of those songs I, and perhaps you, might need to let sit for a while. Let it reveal itself over time. Musically it’s slightly insane, there’s a crazy tone to the vocals. There’s that ‘Man Who Sold The World’ thing going on.

‘The Mercy Clown’ is a portrait in words of a Northern character. Violin (or possibly viola) stabs, swirls sinuously, guitars growl. Those ‘radio vocals’ are employed. It’s fantastically dense and layered. There’s a musical and lyrical structure but it has the feel of a freeform musical piece. T has, and I hope you’ll forgive me, a structured non-structure. It has a sound you want, no need, to drown in.

KOTS do these stream of consciousness songs and album closer – ‘Sugar Rush’ – is one of those. The words are like those thoughts you get in your head, that fall over themselves, that make sense and then make no sense at all. String sounds are the musical spine of this song, sounds that soar, sounds that disturb, sounds that sound like the thoughts inside of my head at times, compulsive and unstoppable, tumbling over each other, clashing.

The easy, and the lazy music reviewer, way of summing this album up is say King of the Slums do it again, releasing yet another brilliant album. And this is true, completely true,

However that’s not enough for me obviously. What this album brings into sharp focus is that what the band do, in its own way, is folk music, not in musical form of course, but in song topics. The songs tackle issues that are of today, issues that are important. They tell stories of ‘ordinary extraordinary people’.

And as the words reflect now, the music does that as well. Yes, it’s still the recognisable sound of KOTS but the sound follows the song subjects, and where we are now as a society.

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that the playing on this album is as good as the band have ever done. The standard of playing is consistently great across all of their releases.

I have loved all of their albums for different reasons. The reason I love this album is that the songs paint a picture of now, a picture made up of the people.in our world today. Yes, these are individuals but somehow they encapsulate all of us. And there’s a beauty in that.

The album available via www.kingoftheslums.com, most digital streaming platforms and all good record shops.