It's hard not to notice the striking similarities between Kal Marks and their fellow Bostonians and labelmates Pile. Beyond their geographical ties, they have both developed unique takes on late '90s-style post-hardcore and melodic noise rock. While Pile still feels like a songwriting project expanded to take advantage of a full lineup, Kal Marks' compositions come directly from the chemistry of the trio itself. The band don't necessarily feel like they're jamming, per se, but their music tends to wander off its own delineated path, poking into melodic and textural nooks that most others would pass right by.
For all its experimentation, the band's third record, Universal Care, is in some sense their most aggressive. Vocalist Carl Shane breaks out unintelligible and arresting shrieks on "Grand Mal" and "Fuck That Guy"; beams of feedback and slashes of noise emanate from his guitar without warning on "All Error Is"; and Michael Geacone's bass takes on a particularly ominous sludgy growl for the duration of the album. There is a strange intention to all the twists and turns, however. The flurry of pummelling drum fills that break up "The Afterlife," for instance, abruptly give way to a sunny major key coda that sets the pace for the following tracks.
Overall, Universal Care is a compelling and entertaining step forward in the Kal Marks catalogue. It's full of ambitious dynamic swings: sometimes within a single song like "Loosed," and elsewhere in the track sequencing, as when "Springtime in January" is countered by the delicate solo cut "Ode." The band are at their best when they synthesize these diverse sonic pieces, though: album highlight "Adventure" is a soul-throttling pop shoegaze masterpiece driven by a Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque bass line and rounded out by a fuzzy and unexpectedly flashy guitar solo. It may be the catchiest song they've ever written. (Exploding in Sound)