Kramies – The European EP

Kramies - The European EP

Burgeoning lo-fi bedroom music projects are about as ubiquitous these days as the Kardashians – seemingly omnipresent whether you’re trolling Twitter, Wikipedia, or some hipster blog on Tumblr.  Kim and Chloe are a little bit more outlandish and erratic in their public lives than are the likes of Youth Lagoon of Memory Tapes though, and those bands’ soporific predilections don’t exactly do much to encourage rapt attention on the part of fans.  So while these high-maintenance socialites keep themselves on our radar, there’s a scraggly collective of musicians whose songs are stifled by meek personalities and a miasma of hiss and reverb.

Kramies Windt’s music takes the insular trappings of the recent lo-fi boom and burnishes them with a pop veneer.  There’s the usual shot of melancholy atmosphere, earnest storytelling and lyrical mantras, but this five-song EP sounds more like it was mixed and mastered in a professional recording studio than with a digital four-track.  It also doesn’t hurt that Windt’s swooning vocal timbre occupies the same space as Howie Day – another vocally adroit folkie who often liked to ornament his tender reveries with myriad sound effects.

Kramies’ European EP sounds indeed like the work of a guy who has previously held opening slots for Spiritualized and Yo La Tengo; the record teems with circular dream pop motifs, lush textures, and wistful ambience.  Had Windt paid the sort of due diligence to melodic variation that he gives to all other aspects of his craft, we’d have a gripping set of tunes that display an emotional crest befitting of such sprawling sound collages.  Instead, we’re given songs heavy on cadences and codas, not unlike opening a book and turning right to the epilogue.

The first track – “Intro,” plainly enough – is just assured acoustic guitar strums and Windt musing, “They’ll sink our ships / they’ll race our horses dead.”  That line quickly becomes an incantation though, looped ad infinitum as overdubbed vocal harmonies and ethereal piano counterpoint quickly enter the fold.  The song is enveloped less than two minutes later by a gnarly wall of amplifier feedback, abruptly silenced in a manner familiar to anyone with a Nine Inch Nails record.  The ensuing title track opens with a more deliberate percussive groove, but a wash of spectral keyboards and other icy timbres quickly dial down the urgency.  “In the changing of the seasons / we’ve become the Europeans,” sings Kramies, and you can’t help but imagine a visage of autumn-like breezes and gently shifting colors as all of the elements coalesce and then slowly fade away.

“Inventors” meanders back and forth between two chords, made all the more hypnotic by Kramies’ sighing vocals and a glistening milieu of guitar and keyboard patterns.  “Coal Miners Executive Club” hints at grand ascendancy early on with tremolo-affected synthesizers and more vocal chants (“We can pace ourselves / then you’ll finally draw the line”), but despite the encouragement of myriad cymbal rolls and tom drum fills, the release never quite materializes.

The European stands out from the rest of its ilk largely because of studio craftsmanship, but a general disregard for verse/chorus structure and a preoccupation with sonic sculpture – albeit beautiful – renders Kramies’ first release for Hidden Shoal nothing more than an assuaging soundtrack as you tend to more pressing matters.  Still though, it’s a far better companion for your time than the Kardashians.