Duuude, Tapes! Keefshovel, Demo ’13

Posted in Duuude, Tapes! on March 28th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

When drummer Matt Couto handed me what I was told was the last remaining copy of Keefshovel‘s demo tape from Nomadic Behavior Records the other night, Ichabod frontman John Fadden, who was standing nearby, succinctly (and jokingly) asked, ” A demo tape? What the fuck is this? 1983?” That’s pretty much the root critique of the “tape revival” as a whole. Unlike vinyl, which enjoyed some level of reverence even as CDs came up in the ’80s and ’90s and digital media took hold in the late ’90s and 2000s, tapes were left to the stuff of homegrown noisemakers. Their central usefulness — that is, the ability to be recorded on and recorded over — was undone by CD-Rs and file trading. Romanticism for analog warmth and nostalgia aside, there’s little a tape can offer beyond physical presence that I can’t get from a zip file. It seems a reasonable argument to make that tapes went further away than vinyl did because other formats offered the same appeal in a better form. Vinyl broke songs into sides and sounded better. CDs were later made recordable, and digital files were more convenient. You might as well put out an 8-track. It’s an understandable position.

Yet, in revisiting Keefshovel‘s three-song Demo ’13 (first reviewed here), the cassette does sound different, rougher, meaner than the digital version. Part of that is undoubtedly due to the stereo to which my tape deck is hooked up — call it a mid-fi — but whatever it is, the New Bedford sludgers’ rawness makes yet another case for the validity of tapes as a format. They’re cheap and they sound harsh. What part of that doesn’t work? The label on Keefshovel‘s tape is clearly a sticker, and mine has bends in it. The “demo tape” is a classic medium, and in a time when so much of the focus of aesthetic is on celebrating the past while updating its influence into a modern sphere — so many of the criticisms of tapes could also be made about vinyl as well, and that’s before you even get to bands recording analog, vintage sound and style, private presses, etc. — I guess I just don’t see how tapes are any different. They don’t offer vinyl’s clarity. Big deal. Listening to Keefshovel‘s mp3s again, I prefer the nastiness of “Christmas in Brockton” with the tape’s compression. It’s royal viciousness either way, and only gets more so when the vocals kick in on “A Seed in the Rough,” but as far as I’m concerned, the more format the merrier. At least they got to put it out.

I’ve gone through the tracks before — link above — so I’ll spare you that, but with the black and white art, one-sided J-card and already-gone availability, Keefshovel‘s Demo ’13 taps into a valid and elsewhere-honored tradition that shows itself as vital simply through the reaction its existence can provoke on both ends. Put into two sides, “Christmas in Brockton” and “A Seed in the Rough” face off well with the 10-minute “Germ,” and while I don’t know what the future holds for the band, they were able to situate these three songs in an established modus that, while the continued subject of discussion in itself, has obviously stood the test of time. I’m happy to have gotten a copy.

Keefshovel, Demo ’13

Nomadic Behavior Records on Thee Facebooks

Keefshovel on Thee Facebooks

Keefshovel on Bandcamp

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On the Radar: Keefshovel

Posted in On the Radar on September 11th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I had the luxury of experiencing Keefshovel‘s classic dual-guitar sludge live before hearing it in studio form. That night a couple weeks back at P.A.’s Lounge in scenic Somerville (review here) found them raw but with a sense of knowing what they wanted to do, the specific kind of abrasion they wanted to interlace with their riffs, where and when to feedback, where and when to crush. They were not at all in a position yet to innovate, but they seemed to have long since gotten underway with the project of establishing their sound. It was equally impressive in volume and intensity.

The digital release of their first demo, simple titled Demo ’13, arrives in much the same spirit. Comprised of three tracks clocking in at just over 23 minutes, it’s full of vicious plod and rumbling heft, beginning with the instrumental opener “Christmas in Brockton.” I’ll confess I was a little disappointed when I listened for the first time and found it wasn’t a reworking of “Christmas in Heaven” from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but my concerns were soon vaporized by the actual thrust of the track, which hammers slow-chug riffing without sounding hackneyed or redundant. Drumming from Matt Couto (also of Elder) goes a long way in propelling the apex of the opener — even on the recording, he sounds like he’s hitting hard — but it’s the band as a whole that provides the appeal, and that carries through to “A Seed in the Rough” and the extended “Germ” as well.

Both of the latter two feature vocals, which first arrive following an intro build in “A Seed in the Rough” as layers of caustic screams. But for the pace, which is a crawl, my mind immediately went to Swarm of the Lotus in terms of sonic likeness, a layer of cleaner shouts worked in with the screams as stop-start bombast seems to bring down walls all around. “A Seed in the Rough” comes close to seven minutes long and finds at its midpoint a quick guitar lead that seems to signify some interest in future solo chicanery, but the pummel soon continues unabated, a slowdown and massive chugging giving way to further crash and nod as the cacophony reaches its boiling point.

When Keefshovel have driven “A Seed in the Rough” as deep into the skull of their audience as it will go, they make a switch to the 10:34 “Germ,” which works in a similar style but is even more fucked up. A more angular riff than that of “A Seed in the Rough” gives “Germ” another level of corrosiveness, though some emergent melodic interplay in the guitars hints, again, at potential stylistic complexity. “Germ” plays out as the nastiest of the three on Demo ’13, slowing further at four minutes in and dedicating the remainder of its time to playing fast and slower instrumental progressions off each other, lead notes tossed in to draw further interest.

I’d expect that as they continue to develop, Keefshovel will grow into their sludge more and provide an individualized take on the ideas they’re beginning to present here, but even so, these three tracks lack nothing for impact or viscosity. I’ll look forward to the next time I get to see them blast forth from a stage.

Keefshovel, Demo ’13 (2013)

Keefshovel on Bandcamp

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