Posted on February 16th, 2018
[as seen on Noisey]
In the barely tonal, fuzz-abraded noise rock that Kal Marks have made over the last decade, the world is always ending. “Everybody dies,” proclaims one album title. “LIFE IS MURDER,” screams another. But at least according to vocalist-guitarist Carl Shane, you’d be advised not to take such sentiments at face value.
“The biggest misconception of myself and the band is that we’re miserable pricks,” he deadpans over email. “That may be a little true, but it’s unfair because nobody is that one dimensional. I’m very aware of how fucked this world is, but the sun always rises and I have to keep some proactive spirit. I don’t label myself a pessimist or an optimist. I try to be a realist.”
It’s a difficult stance to take in hard times, to balance the good and the grim, when everything feels like it’s falling down around you, but that’s the one they take on their new record, Universal Care, due February 23 on Exploding in Sound. Across 12 tracks, the Boston trio stretch into some of the woolier arrangements and screechier sounds that they’ve ever undertaken.
Shane often contorts his voice into twisted up shapes that sound as much like industrial screeches as they do human vocalizations. He sings about the perils of global warming, and bemoans the ways we let smaller problems occlude existential threats, all the while he and drummer Alex Audette and bassist Michael Geacone churn out #riffs that that chime and grind in equal measure. It all sorta sounds like trying to force a handbell through a paper shredder, and Shane’s not stopping until he gets to at least the first knuckle.
And yet for Shane, all that sonic violence is linked to the spirit of overcoming that’s embedded in the record, a triumphant feeling amidst the discord. “We got to stretch out, and try new things.” he says. “This record became more than what we set out for it to be. So there’s hope there. Hope that even as we get older we still dare to try. Also letting my anger or anxiety out in song is so relieving. I get to do that a lot on this.”
Shane has said in the past that he’s not tried to make direct political statements in his lyrics, but he’s observant about the world around him, channeling the anxiety and discomfort and existential tumult of 21st century living into twisted takes on rock tropes. He still downplays that side of the bands work via email. “My feeling towards politics hasn't changed,” he wrote. "It's just a thing that creeps into my mind from time to time, and I still don't quite understand them. Not my wheelhouse.”
And yet, there’s songs on the record like “Springtime in January” which explicitly engage with climate change and the ultimate end of everything we hold dear. It can be hard to make out exactly what he’s saying through the static and the squelching, but there’s this sense of doom, and an urgency to overcome it, that gives the record a strange power. Or at least a perseverance.
"I am concerned for this world, and it's hard to not be aware of the current political climate," he says. "More than ever it feels like an oligarchy, with real fiends and clowns making terrible decisions. I just speak freely about whatever in our songs. Sometimes I don't really know what the songs mean."
To borrow Shane’s own summation, it's realist rock of the first order that acknowledges the terrors of the world but recognizing the necessity of slogging onward.
Universal Care is out next Friday, February 23, on Exploding in Sound, but it’s streaming in full up above, if you need a dose of harshness to bring you back to center.