Stables more often than not sounds more than a tad indebted to Nick Drake.
Somewhere along the way, the original idea of folk music as being a music of and by the common people fell completely by the wayside. What is now commonly called “folk music” – or “indie folk” to be precise – is little more than delicately rendered, emotionally contemplative musical sketches built around navel-gazing or fanciful lyrics. About the only thing modern folk has in common with traditional folk music is some of the same acoustic instrumentation. Beyond that, it feels more like a misnomer than anything else, an outdated term for the softer side of rock and pop delivered by sensitive souls with an affinity for the autumnal and melancholic. It’s obviously far too late to implement any sort of corrective titling for these cardigan and thrift store-clothed individuals, so it’s best to perhaps just accept it for what it isn’t and move on with things. (That said, I’ve always preferred the “sad bastard” genre tag, one more befitting those saddled with the “folk” tag.)
Regardless of the fact that modern folk music is really anything but, the term itself immediately brings to mind the sound of delicate, finger-picked guitars, abstract poetry and vocal affectations that border on the overly cloying and twee. This is the Kit, the nom de folk of one Kate Stables, traffics in all but the latter, perfectly personifying the modernist idea of indie folk. Add to that the ever-revolving cast of players who’ve accompanied her across her handful of albums released over the last decade and you’ve checked nearly all the requisite boxes for contemporary indie folk. Like her peers, Stables more often than not sounds more than a tad indebted to that poster child of tragic sad bastards, Nick Drake, borrowing heavily from the ill-fated singer-songwriter’s overall aesthetic.
For her latest album and first for Rough Trade, Stables once again returns to her figurative roots by reconnecting with producer John Parish, with whom she worked on her critically lauded debut, Krulle Bol. Because of this, Moonshine Freeze sounds and feels very much akin to her debut in terms of both style and substance, the main difference being a somewhat more polished level of production and only slightly more involved arrangements. Nearly every track here builds from the requisite spare acoustic guitar to something only slightly less effete, each then adorned by Stables’s occasionally accented vocals. Indeed, her Bristol-bred burr helps differentiate her from the more generic artists exploring similar sounds, styles and themes both lyrical and musical.
Opening track “Bullet Proof” sets the sonic tone for what’s to come, Stables’s voice prominent in the mix, struck through with the appropriate level of melancholy, underscored by wandering drums and overly-trebly guitars designed to replicate a “folky” sound. Yes, it’s all very pleasant and well-conceived to tap into the basest elements of the genre, but there’s just something lacking throughout, something that feels overly disingenuous. It’s a problem that plagues the majority of contemporary “folk” music, often coming across more as playacting than conveying any sort of genuine emotions or universal sentiments rooted in a human need for connection.
But this is all more an airing of grievances, This is the Kit coming squarely into the crosshairs of this particular argument. As a whole, Moonshine Freeze is a fine album of otherwise largely forgettable indie folk that occasionally strays into slightly more idiosyncratic territory (the jazz horns on the title track, the very Sandy Denny-esque “Show Me So”) but never long enough to leave a lasting impression. If anything, it’s “Riddled with Ticks” that sticks with the listener the longest, not for the song itself but the imagery it calls to mind, the narrator’s body riddled not with tremors and twitches but rather the blood-sucking, Lyme disease-infested arachnids burrowing beneath the skin. If only the music managed to do the same. Alas…