Wednesday, November 23, 2011

In Peter Kernel Beats A Black Heart

Peter Kernel isn't for everyone. They might not even be for anyone. And it's anybody's guess when this Swiss-Canadian art-punk trio will be touring Stateside. Good. They're too disruptive.

Seriously. Listening to their nearly perfect addictive and delicious album White Death & Black Heart ought to come with a warning label. Every primal, primitive beat will resonate in your head for weeks.

It started quite impossibly by accident when Aris Bassetti (guitar, voice, graphic design), Barbara Lehnhoff (bass, voice, filmmaker), and Ema Matis (drums) got together to write the soundtrack for the experimental musical, Like A Giant In A Towel (Locarno International Film Festival 2006), which was directed by Lehnhoff. That's all it was supposed be, a one-time gig for an indie film. 

Peter Kernel was dead on arrival and nobody cared. 

Well, that's not really true. They cared. They cared enough to cut another album in 2008, a debut produced on their startup label, On The Camper Records. How To Perform A Funeral wasn't even an album. It was an experiment that did everything wrong, leaving you to wonder why it sounds right.

Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade) knows what I mean. He felt the same way when he heard the debut, just before inviting Peter Kernel to open for his band's European tour last year. Krug shouldn't have encouraged them. Because as soon as they stepped one foot off the stage, they spent their holidays recording the 12 tracks that make up their sophomore album. 

It's just as twisted. White Death & Black Heart is an absolutely painfully perfect disaster that you play over and over again. It makes you wonder if art punk and pop noise finally woke up from a nap and slapped you because it was waiting for rock to need another reboot. Here's the wake-up call.

Panico! This Is Love is what Peter Kernel is kicking around as a seduction. From the very first twangy slide, it's blatantly annoying and deliberate. So much so you can't help but to turn it up louder and rattle the windows and piss off the neighbors. It's an unapologetically raw smackdown of pop packaging. 

The entire album is equally insensitive and insistent. For a band without much technical ability, they deliver more gritty guitar work and an oppressive, buzzy rhythm that hypnotizes than many other bands do. You can add Lehnhoff's vocals to that, whether she croaks out the note or simply speaks them. 

Most of the songs are discontent and dark, dreary minimalism that sucks out self-love sappiness and leaves the husk behind. Sure, some people have underrated the album on the whole, but it's the whole album that shakes, smokes, and splinters. 

There seems to be little doubt that Bassetti and Lehnhoff captured the fracture of their original drummer's split with his girlfriend (and fourth member). But most of it can be attributed to what Bassetti describes as being paranoid. The world is dark, but you can still find a reason to smile, which is why the band has taken to cutting less-than-serious videos despite their lyrics. 

This is an album to own outright. It can't be cut into single standouts. However, if you insist on taking it slow on the discovery from AfricaTape, start with the melodic I'll Die Rich At Your Funeral, the spoken and anti-poetic Tide's High, punchy Captain's Drunk, and the seductive Want You Dirty, Want You Sweet. 

Peter Kernel White Death & Black Heart Beats 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Peter Kernel is just getting started. White Death & Black Heart follows up the debut album with better compositions and songwriting all around. Sure, there were some hints of what to come with tracks like the brilliant Flies Die and What The Hell off the first, but all twelve work here, albeit some more than others.

I expect a few will question the score, given some scorn by some reviewers. Chalk it up to the fact that you can't change a single note and make it any more than it already is. And then add in that this band isn't a throwback to past alt acts as one lazy hisser implied, but something else in pop noise that goes beyond the most obvious influences. You can download White Death & Black Heart by Peter Kernel from Amazon. White Death & Black Heart is also on iTunes. Keep up with the band at Peter Kernel.

Liquid [Hip] received a digital copy of the album. Stuck in our heads since.
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