KILN: Sunbox
Ghostly International

While the dictionary definition for “KILN” reads “a furnace or oven for burning, baking, or drying something,” the Michigan-based trio's sound is hardly fiery. Kevin Hayes, Kirk Marrison, and Clark Rehberg III adopt a subtler approach where changes in temperature occur less perceptibly and melodies insinuate themselves more surreptitiously. Sunbox, a half-hour mini-album of five tracks, offers a succinct introduction to the group's atmospheric style that's not quite post-rock but not quite ambient either; its pastoral, bucolic qualities also suggest folktronica but without acoustic guitars. KILN deftly constructs arrangements of impeccable detail by transforming traditional sounds (drums, percussion, guitars, keyboards) via computer processing into textured soundscapes.

The opener “Royal Peppermint Forest” is as sweet as its title suggests, with its sing-song, nursery rhyme theme and soft bossa nova rhythm heard through a gauzy film of clicks and whirrs. The fuzzy blur not only gives the child-like theme a rougher edge but imbues it with a nostalgic aura as well, as if it were a melody heard decades ago, now literally filtered through the distorting blur of remembrance. The song's a marvel of construction but deceptively so, as the delicate, glitchy patterns interweave subtly, more intent upon creating a cumulative impression than emphasizing a singular element. “Ghost” pursues a similar strategy, as its panning percussion patterns are likewise accompanied by a translucent filter of hiss that shadows its soft tones, crackles, and surges. There's a modicum of melody in the track, however, making it more of a quietly propulsive and textured mood piece, a characterization that also applies to “Season,” whose minimal wisps of melody make it the most skeletal of the five pieces, and “Lux (RPF Rebuild).” The latter's title suggests that it's a version of the opener, but its vestige of melody is more implied than overtly stated. Again a nostalgic quality emerges, especially when most of the instruments drop out in a middle section, allowing sounds of distant windswept waves to be heard. “Hong” is the longest track, the most epic in feel and closest to post-rock, if only for the stronger presence of guitar and drums. KILN, however, nurtures a more ambient style and is less interested in dynamic crescendos of the Godspeed kind. Although “Hong” begins ploddingly with heavy pounding drums, there are quieter moments of supple detail like a percussive ping that echoes and fades. The closest thing to a conventional solo appears here too when a guitar voices cleanly etched lines with just the merest trace of rawness.

One might be tempted to align KILN with Boards of Canada as both share a propensity for heavily textured, nostalgia-laden soundscapes; “Lux (RPF Rebuild),” for example, includes an ascending melodic cell whose yearning quality recalls Boards of Canada but the song's faster tempo mitigates against the impression of nostalgic ennui. KILN distinguishes itself most of all by striking an impressive balance between the seeming looseness of live playing and the deliberate and perhaps obsessive sound sculpting made available by digital assembly methods. Sunbox impresses in spite of its brevity, a promising harbinger, one hopes, for future KILN releases.

September 2004