Review: A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen

Nestled somewhere near the centre of the math/noise/post-rock venn diagram, A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen is the self-titled debut from this Antwerp-based outfit, centred round guitarist Craig Ward (formerly of dEUS, amongst others) and drummer Butsenzeller (a.k.a. Geert ‘Bootsie’ Budts of DAAU, etc.). Between them they grind out a brash and exuberant brand of proggy skronk; full of wailing sax, primitive electronics, scruffy, angular guitar and tight-as-a-gnat’s-chuff rhythms. There’s an obvious (but thankfully not overbearing) Trout Mask/Decals-era Beefheart influence at play here, especially in Ward’s guitar (this is a Good Thing).

Whilst the guitar is a dominant force throughout this record, coating everything in a thick layer of noisy grime and vicious atonal stabs, it’s Butsenzeller’s drumming which ultimately holds the whole thing together. Whether supplying gratuitously complex math-rock patterns, letting it all hang out in loose, jazzy improv passages or hammering out a ballsy rock backbone, his drumming is exemplary.

As with a lot of the best noise-related music, after a couple of songs A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen operates on a more-or-less ambient level. The music is so far removed from tangible melodies that your ears quickly become adjusted to the noise and start to subconsciously register the subtle shifts in sound rather than searching for hooks to latch on to.

 

 

Ward’s vocals are a largely unintelligible Patton-esque affair, buried deep in the mix; mumbling, groaning and bellowing under layer upon layer of screeching guitar, meaty bass and pounding drums. This approach effectively strips the words away from the vocals, leaving them as a disconcerting conduit for raw tension and angst. It adds a welcome humanity to proceedings and keeps things from spilling over into the usual “emotionless avant-rock automatons” territory.

It’s hard to pinpoint to certain tracks as stand-outs as the whole album is remarkably consistent in both tone and quality, but “Safety Shot” probably deserves a special mention for its remarkable intro alone, in which shrieking pure electronic tones are deployed in devastating unison with Ward’s unhinged guitar – it might not sound like much written down, but the first time I heard it it made me grin like a fucking loon, so there. Also worthy of note is “Priss”. At just shy of ten minutes, it’s the longest track on the album and arguably the most distinctive of the bunch as well. It’s a comparatively slow-tempo affair, with bouts of loose free improv shifting into heavier arranged passages. Personally, I think the album might have benefited from a few more moments like this.

Overall, this is as assured and confident a debut as any avant-rock band could wish for, but given Ward and Butzenseller’s considerable experience this hardly comes as a surprise. A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen might not be pushing avant-rock into uncharted waters as such, but by deftly consolidating all the best elements of math, noise and post-rock into one convenient package, it’s never been easier to annoy your friends, relatives and neighbours alike!

A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen is out today on Jezus Factory Records as Vinyl and Download package.

You can stream the album for free in full here.

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