The Ed Kemper Trio – How to Win a Sword Fight

The Ed Kemper Trio
How to Win a Sword Fight

Montgomery, Alabama is just about the last place you would expect to hear some cutting-edge post-punk, but it seems that these days everywhere you turn there are terrific, talented bands springing up clamoring for your attention. What used to be relegated, for the most part, to major metropolitan areas has spread like a healthy virus to the most remote reaches of the country. But it still comes as a bit of a shock and surprise when a group as skilled and accomplished as The Ed Kemper Trio can survive the relative anonymity of their hometown and put together something as cohesive and commanding as their promising full-length, How to Win a Sword Fight.
In sound and style, The Ed Kemper Trio have seemingly embraced the noisy post-punk canon of Chicago’s Touch and Go label, particularly edgier acts like Tar and Shellac. Their writhing, winding riffs and manic energy also suggest an affinity with similarly minded outfits like Unwound and At the Drive-In. Kenny Johnson’s loud buzz saw guitars are placed front and center as are his impassioned vocals that lurk somewhere between spoken word poetics and screamo fury. Bassist Vonda McLeod’s thick, groove-oriented bass riffs are bouncy and buoyant, providing the perfect antithesis to Johnson’s scathing pyrotechnics. Not to be outdone, drummer Glenn Grant assaults every beat and fill with terrific chops and a focused intensity. The musicianship here is strong and the songwriting is unique and inventive.
The scorching opener, “Killed for This,” features slashing, angular guitars wrapped around an off-beat rhythm that lunges and recedes alternately, keeping the listener off-balance and wary of the next change. That is followed by the hard-charging “Spells Devil Backwards,” a mathy, guitar-driven instrumental that flows without pause into the more dynamic “What’s New No. 2?,” which runs the gamut from loud and aggressive punk to atmospheric art-rock. “Even Burns Underwater” is another standout track that revolves around Johnson’s muscular riffs and Grant’s and McLeod’s turbo-charged rhythms. The mood on these songs is dark and dangerous, violent and visceral. It is a feeling that will only continue to grow as the album progresses and that is reinforced by such ominous song titles as “A Blow to the Head,” “Pain in Sound Experiment,” “Why Death Works,” “Bleeding Strategy,” and “The Catastrophe Event.”
It could be argued that How to Win a Sword Fight is The Ed Kemper Trio’s attempt at a concept album, a notion that is reinforced by the utter lack of space between songs and the use of prerecorded samples and sound recordings to fill in gaps and provide an intellectual connective fiber to draw the songs together. Then there is the prevailing portentous mood, which seems to permeate every aspect of this LP like shadows stretching into the night. Regardless of intent, however, this is an impressive artistic statement for an unknown group from a relatively unknown scene. At 17 tracks, it is a bit much to soak in at one listen, but the group wisely sticks to their strengths of energy and volume and keeps the musical meandering to a minimum. Well done.