I generally subscribe to the nihilistic punk-rock philosophy of “kill your idols,” but not when it comes to The Philistines.
The group of Kansas City rockers has released its nine-track debut, The Backbone of the Night, on the Record Machine label. Mixed at Massive Sound Studios by Paul Malinowski (local rock hero of Shiner), its sounds veer from spacey 1950s pop ballads to an electric take on a silent film accompaniment, all of it as suave as Pam Grier in a pantsuit.
Each song is a diorama, a tiny world of carefully expressed emotional lyrics and kinetic energy created within the velvet structures of Michelle Bacon’s poised bass lines, Cody Wyoming and Rod Peal’s power collaborations on guitar, Josh Mobley’s keys and Steve Gardels’ drums. Kimmie Queen’s vocals are an effective blend of occult-like chic, high-pitched but not grating, like velvet gloves on a chalkboard – she should have been the voice of Thomas Edison’s talking dolls.
Queen locks my heart in a lacquered box with the opening “Steep.” Even her microphone hisses are perfectly timed as she careens silkily through “just another day alone among the thieves.” It's a trait she carries consistently throughout the record, her broad emotion tightly funneled into a rich vocal brocade. In “A Heart Like Candy,” she's a goth Lesley Gore with all the charm intact.
“A Twitch of the Death Nerve” could roll over the opening scene of a movie in which everyone is wearing black suits, skinny ties and smoking, packing .22s while walking slowly toward the camera. “You keep a clean nose, you’re always getting dirty," Queen sings, setting a zeitgeist of danger. "You watch the plainclothes, it’s 25 to 30.” She and Wyoming squabble delightfully with each other on the chorus until Wyoming punches out a raving guitar solo, while Bacon remains powerful and sanguine throughout. Gardels’ drums are as sassy as a Bob Fosse number – you can almost see his hair flying.
I'm not cool enough to take acid, but I imagine “The Accretion Disco,” an eight-minute excursion five tracks in, would be the perfect soundtrack for a trip. Psychedelic guitar riffs and “Age of Aquarius”-worthy harmonies led by Wyoming's coyote purring (“Coming round, how you like it so far/Crashing down, in the wake of a star”) are a groovy twist in a genre done ad infinitum; the guitar tipples in like an electric sitar for a solo that's opium-den mysterious and brooding. It's enough to make this punk rocker want to ditch leather for a white bandeau maxi-dress.
The record exudes an effortless post-modern confidence, relishing in a symphonious sound with creepy embellishments. It's as if the Philistines were taking instructions from Ginsberg's "Howl": “to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before/you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet/confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought.”
Instead of language, the Philistines are using their instruments to tear things up and stitch them back together in a rich, visceral, stage-show-like record.
Monique Gabrielle Salazar is a Kansas City freelance writer, artist and producer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.