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Exploding In Sound


Exploding In Sound

Kal Marks have never made a record as personal as Wasteland Baby. Though Carl Shane, the band’s vocalist-guitarist, has made a career off of exploring blunt, uncomfortable truths through song, with Wasteland Baby, he steered Kal Marks toward something utterly new. Shane looked inward to stare down a fear that had long plagued him: What would it look like to have a child in a world that looks like this? “The album was driven by the fears I’m having about being a father,” says Shane. “The initial spark was this fear, and I thought that maybe if I could express it, I could overcome it.”

What started out with this simple premise slowly grew into a sprawling, borderline-concept record. It’s no surprise, then, that Kal Marks went deeper and darker than ever before when writing Wasteland Baby. Though, in order to reach that final product, it required the band—bassist-vocalist John Russell, drummer Adam Berkowitz, and guitarist-vocalist Christina Puerto, who is also Shane’s partner—to interrogate every decision they made with exacting detail. “We really had to be more thoughtful if we really wanted to make a more mature, cohesive record,” says Shane. ”We were really all on the same page in that we wanted to make something really, really special and that was going to require us putting a lot of ego aside and just trying to serve the songs as best as possible.”

“Insects” kicks the album off with Berkowitz laying down a tom-heavy groove alongside squelching, screeching guitars from Shane and Puerto while Russell’s horrifically hypnotic bassline pulls you into the band’s accosting orbit. The discomforting hallmarks of noise-rock that Kal Marks built their name on are still here but, for the first time, gone is the atonal churning and, instead, it’s been replaced with a groovy, danceable backbeat. “We got kind of pigeonholed into the noise-rock thing, and I think we wanted to depart from that. Sure, we’re noisy, and we like The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi, but a lot of that doesn’t feel that imaginative to us at this point. I also listen to a lot of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and Silver Jews, and we listen to a lot of funk and soul, and we wanted to not shy away from showing those sides of ourselves,” says Shane.

The lyrics driving Wasteland Baby become a sprawling hero’s journey, chronicling an unnamed protagonist’s discontent, aimlessness, and eventual discovery of purpose in a dystopian landscape. “We really wanted the album to have a good flow so we treated it like a movie,” says Shane. “I would storyboard everything and find common threads in the words. I always kept notebooks on me to write lyrics, notes on the production, and just my overall feelings. Some days were really fruitful, some were filled with writer’s block and sleepless nights. Some of the songs I kind of hallucinated. I don’t know how to fully explain it, but it felt surreal. At times I even felt I was losing my mind and hearing voices.”

With the album’s creation serving as a disquieting expedition all its own, those feelings are fully imbued into the tracks that chronicle the protagonist’s despair (“Insects,” “Hard Work Will Get You No Where,” “Functional Earth”) making for the most ominous and textural pieces Kal Marks has ever created. Recorded at Machines With Magnets with Seth Manchester, the album’s production perfectly weights the newfound rhythmic bounciness while retaining the distinct auditory ugliness fans of Kal Marks have long loved. The result are tracks like “Midnight,” which sounds like all of the fears tucked inside your subconscious got bored of terrorizing you and decided to start a rock band. It’s disquieting and disorienting yet, somehow, strangely fun, too.

As the album progresses, and our protagonist begins to find hope in an otherwise desperate world, there’s a sense of optimism that begins poking through Wasteland Baby while avoiding overt naivete. When Shane sings “The world has a ruthless reputation” on “You Are Found” it’s less a cutting indictment and more a resigned acknowledgment, as if the protagonist has been pummeled enough to no longer fear one final, crushing blow. It’s in these stretches that Shane presents as a more humanist Andrew Falkous. There’s an acerbic feeling running throughout Wasteland Baby but also a willingness to keep pushing forward to find the few patches of sunshine among the looming darkness.

It’s a feeling that the members of Kal Marks felt when they listened back to the final version of Wasteland Baby. “When we finished, I remember Christina saying that this is the best piece of work that any of us have ever done,” says Shane. In many ways, Wasteland Baby feels both like an endpoint for the first phase of Kal Marks, and the beginning of a new chapter for its members. The result is that, perhaps, things will look different for Kal Marks in the future. “In an ideal world, Kal Marks will go on forever. But it may be the end of a chapter for a while. I don’t want it to be the end, but there was an element running through the album that maybe could be the end,” says Shane. No matter what the future holds, Wasteland Baby is an emphatic reminder to brush off the things that keep you from truly living and venture into the unknown. You never know what will happen when you do.