The Kamikaze Hearts – S/T

Cuomo, damn you, now I can’t get ten words into a review without having to rrethink the whole thing, thanks to your handiwork. You’ve commoditized lovesickness, like Morrissey before you, except to such an extent that not only does a passing reference to Mohinder now require a discourse, flowcharts inclusive, on the DC Hardcore scene, 1985-1995, but I can’t even mention wistfulness in a review without worrying about getting E*o rubber-stamped – no, I’m not typing that shit out, and it sure as hell doesn’t start with Brian and end with “Here Come the Warm Jets.” Wistfulness is nothing to be ashamed of, people, and here I am appealing to those of you who think they’ve already seen the pertinent representative faces of heartbreak and interpersonal turpitude and have staunchly voted “grindcore” or “Avril” rather than be saddled with such goopy pap. You want your anthems to foot-scuffing and Dear-Johns with some verisimilitude, with some honest-to-god honesty, with some songcrafting the likes of which we’re rarely graced with in such a solid succession? Gentlemen – World – please allow me to introduce The Kamikaze Hearts.
People who’ve already been Bonnie Prince Blown Away by the Molinas and Darnielles of independent music know the power of the reclaimation of the banjo from C&W, so before I entreat everyone else to lend an ear, let me give the Songs: Ohians their go-ahead to love this: It’s official; this is the best thing you haven’t heard this year. Those of us who haven’t heard a good sad song in years might be interested to know about the multitude of bands venturing out a little bit country, a little bit folk; many’s the band nowadays who’re siphoning off instruments from these deservedly-maligned genres without their attached conventions or cliches and using them in ways which are actually moving again. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than these Kamikaze Hearts kids, who’re all about mandolins and banjos; who eschew amplifiers and microphones; who’ve found a perfect niche in between R.E.M.’s Green – why, that’s my favorite! – and the rock-solid acoustic songcraft of The Mountain Goats, and managed to make it into something a little bit different altogether. This band is no also-ran.
The individual tracks on this, their second release, while running the gamut from strident and finger-pointing (“War Horse”) to shivering and repentant (“In My Way”), share a common proficiency – in songwriting and performance alike – that a hundred ex-punks with factory-made Yamaha dreadnoughts couldn’t strum out. Jesus, these guys sound like they know desperation so closely that I want to hug them; the singer’s immediately recognizable voice shakes like a downing plane, even when the band is in locked four-part harmony, even when he’s barely audible, and that is no small part of the snowed-in ambience which songs like “Beverly Hills” are able to muster. But they’re musicians first, and while voices strain, longlingly, you won’t find a missed note on the record.
And that’s really what I’m saying here – emo don’t know nothing about loss; it’s too Pro-Tooled and synchronized to be effective at its own game. The expression of emotion, from artist to listener, no matter what it is, is at its best both proficient and raw. (Liz Phair, you had damn well better be taking notes on this.) I can’t count the number of bands I’ve seen who meant it, meant it so hard their hands bled and their equipment caught fire, but who’d be able to headline the shows they were opening if they’d learn how to spin their own centrifuges. The Kamikaze Hearts may have a lot to get off their chests, but you’re hearing it exactly as they want it heard – and you owe it to yourself to hear it, too.