Published Jun 24, 2014Halifax's Kuato have a way of muddling expectations. Their hand-illustrated album artwork hints at a metal aesthetic, perhaps with a bit of prog rock thrown in for good measure. The punny song titles on their first three EPs, like "Schlinder's Lisp" and "Iraqnaphobia," suggested a cheeky playfulness. The instrumental five-piece's reputation for ear-crushing live shows since forming in 2010 would lead you to expect a similar sonic assault from their first full-length, The Great Upheaval.
So it's with some surprise that The Great Upheaval is actually a rather pretty album. That's not to say it doesn't have moments of explosion — at their peak, tracks like "Groundwork" and "Red Sand" crash and burst with the best of them — but for the most part the record is sweet and slow-burning, taking its time to get to those peaks. Following in a line of Halifax instrumental bands like INSTRUMENTS, Tomcat Combat and many others, Kuato use jittery, sharp repetition to set their grooves, weaving jangly, reverberated guitar riffs and arpeggios around them. But there's also a more traditional rock sensibility hiding beneath their drawn-out, post-rock leanings, with songs like "Battle of Bloody Creek" filled with far more hooks than you might expect. (As a sign of a more serious bent versus the band's prior work, "Creek," like many of the tracks on Upheaval, is named in reference to events in Nova Scotian history connected to the plight of the Acadians.)
The only question, then, is how much of your enjoyment of this record will come from how it echoes its antecedents. It's impossible to listen to The Great Upheaval without bands like Tortoise, Slint or Come on Die Young-era Mogwai immediately leaping to mind, which can be both an asset and a hindrance. But while it's hardly a groundbreaking record, Upheaval is a confident, catchy and swoony take on the post-rock form. (Acadian Embassy)