In 2021 we welcome back Oakland-based shape-shifters, Kowloon Walled City, who release their fourth album and first since 2015’s Grievances, entitled Piecework.
Comprising of Scott Evans (vocals, guitars); Jon Howell (guitars); Ian Miller (bass); and Dan Sneddon (drums), Kowloon Walled City manage to blunt the sharp edges of noise rock, post-hardcore, math rock, and metal. Styles notorious of sparking aggression, however, through the themes which dominate Piecework, Kowloon Walled City move to pastures anew, presenting their songs with a new born emotional intensity.
Much of Piecework is inspired by the death of Evans’ father, whereby Kowloon Walled City’s architect found strength in the women in his life. The album title a reference to his grandmother, who spent 40 years working in a shirt factory in Kentucky while raising five children (“Still back again/talking through the dust/Talking about money/About the kids/For 40 years” – opening title track).
With off-kilter timing signatures and curling riffs that penetrate and rest under your skin, from the outset, Kowloon Walled City morph the aforementioned styles, resulting in a slow-motion sludge-like aesthetic. Essentially, it could be heralded as some new form of alt-metal for the bruised and downtrodden.
After the emotional storm rumbled in with the title track, Utopian is like some twisted atmospheric math rock thing, with riffs that are akin to treading on broken glass (“No dragging you back from the cold / No furious return / No lock, no heat, no chamber / No shoulder to carry you home/Where the ground lets go”).
Beautiful is the last word to describe a Kowloon Walled City song, but with Oxygen Tent, it’s exactly that (“You can take out the bad air/Until the earth is bare”, “Time slows for another year / As the smoke goes”, and “You never wanted to escape/Now you’re a stranger”). Here, Evans reaches to the depths of emotional sorrow, resulting in the most heartfelt song he has written yet
The spidery assault of You Had A Plan continues to fester in the bellows of despair (“Don’t kick the tyres/ We’re out of air”), while Splicing is the closest song that sounds like one of their loose contemporaries. In this case an anxious, hollow-eyed version of Daughters.
Normal service resumes with When We Fall Through the Floor; a slowcore drone-rock wander that drips with paranoia, slowly bleeding into Lampblack. It’s a fitting closer that, sonically, encapsulates what Kowloon Walled City have set out to do on Piecework, bathing in the grime their themes most certainly contain.
Whilst there are notable acknowledgements to the past, on Piecework, Kowloon Walled City are never fully immersed in it. The result is a band not sounding like anyone other than themselves, with Piecework being as vital as anything the band has produced.
In a year that has boasted many surprises, add Kowloon Walled City’s return to the list.
Piecework is out now via Neurot Recordings/Gilead Media. Purchase from Bandcamp.