BLOWING YOUR FACE OFF Boutwell, Jon Downs, Andrea Downs, Rozzero, and Howard (clockwise from upper left).
No one can kick out guitar-driven, alt-pop gems quite like PVD quintet the Brother Kite. Songwriters (and co-vocalists) Patrick Boutwell and Jon Downs continue to expertly pen tracks with soaring hooks and atmospheric arrangements. Onstage and on record, the Brother Kite look and sound like seasoned pros, and the long-running lineup is locked in more than ever on the new Model Rocket (Clairecords), the follow-up to 2011’s Isolation. The album is more stripped-down compared to Isolation and 2006’s breakout LP Waiting For the Time To Be Right. The grand melodies ride a jetstream of guitars (provided by Boutwell, Downs, and Mark Howard) and a rhythm section (drummer Matt Rozzero and Andrea Downs) playing out of its mind.
Spin Model Rocket’s first two songs, “Secrets” and “Father to Son,” and you may be ready to bill this one as the band’s “loud” album. Propulsive rhythms make for a quick liftoff and had me quickly declaring Model Rocket as my favorite TBK album yet. It turns out the punchier tracks were simply a result of relocating their studio from the woods of New Hampshire back to Providence when they needed to get moving on recording.
“My usual go-to tools were stuck in New Hampshire, so the majority of stuff was composed on guitar, which is why a lot of people are surprised that this record blows their face off, when it was all really just out of necessity,” noted Boutwell.
“I think some people are calling this album a departure because [Isolation] was so sprawling and filled with unusual arrangements,” said Jon Downs. “Model Rocket is still us, but it’s certainly streamlined.”
The band states on the Model Rocket press release, “Isolation was our attempt to really stretch out and break things down. . . this record swings wildly the other way.”
In 2010, Boutwell told me that the band had first aimed toward a “My Bloody Valentine-meets-Superdrag” sound when they released their self-titled debut in 2004, but steadily challenging themselves to create more complex arrangements. That progression led to the timeless beauty of “Get On, Me” from Waiting For the Time To Be Right, drawing added inspiration from bands like Death Cab and the Cure. I jotted down everything from the Beach Boys to Matthew Sweet to Dinosaur Jr while rocking out with Model Rocket. Rozzero whips up the pace on “Small Sparks” and the band backs Downs on “Giving Up Time” like a campfire orchestra. The new single “Bees” is a slow-burner that flares up with a wall of guitar fuzz (the band is shooting a video for “Bees” this Sunday and fans are welcome). “Am I Making Sound” is the album’s big, sweeping centerpiece, and “Oh the Joy” could easily tuck its way onto either of the first two Band of Horses albums.
I’ve heard Model Rocket cuts like “On the Mend” and “Father to Son” performed live (TBK lost a close one to Torn Shorts at the 2013 Rock Hunt this year), and I assumed that sharpening the songs on stage would be beneficial when it’s time to hit the studio. But that’s not always the case, according to Downs.