Written by: TL on 02/03/2014 20:45:15

Kiven is the name of a Californian quartet that I made note of a few years back, for reasons that are now lost to time, as indeed the bandname was until it recently reappeared on my daily rounds of cyberspace. Since forming in 2009 it seems the band has now gotten their bearings enough to attempt their first full length, the confidently self-titled "Kiven", which came out earlier this week and which I scrambled to review based partly on the familiarity and partly on the sound of leading single "In The Fire".

You see, Kiven is a band for whom, when you first hear them, it's fairly plain that they're onto something. Their dark mixture of indie and classic rock sounds unusual but also unmistakably elegant - it continues to give me the feeling that if Young The Giant were bigger Led Zeppelin fans, or if The Sleeping had been a band playing in tailor-made tuxedos instead of sweaty basements, then the cross of that might compare to what these guys sound like. It's round, yet bitter, like the taste of good coffee, and to top things off there's the occasional electronic touch putting sort of a slight Maccabee-ish tint on things just at the corner of your ear.

The short of it: "Kiven" is fucking stylish. It just sounds like money. Unfortunately it's so stylish that it also promises more than the band can consistently deliver as songwriters across its ambitious thirteen tracks, and while you're constantly forced to drool at the vibe, you're also sort of constantly waiting for it to develop into moments to take home to the memory bank. The opening one-two of "In The Fire" and "I Can Take It" offer two decent exceptions up front though, the former resolving the build-up from the intro track nicely and revolving around a nice chorus-repetition, and the latter marking one of the few moments when guitarist Danny Schnair is allowed to unleash some proper power beneath the expert vocals of singer/guitarist/pianist Tyler Demorest.

Unfortunately, as the album moves on, the songs quickly feel less and less compelled to develop in any particularly rewarding directions. Demorest, despite an arsenal of singer's tricks, a characteristic tone and a classy falsetto, gets carried away shaping notes in place of mouthing narratives, making his singing sound a bit distanced and impersonal - even a bit show-off-y perhaps. Singers in the audience will likely recognise that these tunes sound like they are a lot of fun to sing, at the expense of losing captivation of the listener.

This could have been alleviated however, if the interplay between Kiven's core sound, their occasional indie/electronic touches and Schnair's seeming fascination with classic rock had been integrated more dynamically. Unfortunately the latter two glide in and out of the picture mostly without realising their potential impact, and only rarely do they set each other off, like in the delicious solo towards the end of "One By One". Why, you find yourself asking, are there not more moments like these, and why are they spread so widely apart? Earlier, back in "I Can Take It", "Falling Away" and "Come And Go", crunchy guitar chords threaten sensually beneath the songs' progression and eventually find sweet release, but only in too carefully measured bursts for my taste.

Truth be told however, my criticism of "Kiven" stems mostly from frustration, because it strikes me as an album that is very close to where you'd love for it to be but just not quite there. The funky rhythm section that I've left untouched so far, has a seductive power that I suspect could have live audiences hanging by every beat of its pulse (see "Living For The Alarm"), facilitating a party on Kiven's account even without the unmistakable, harmonic hooklines that I find myself longing for each time the album rolls through my headphones. That said, the verdict is still merciless. Kiven are onto something, yet while their album release suggests that they're confident in having seized it, my evaluation is "almost guys, but regretably only almost".


Download: I Can Take It, In The Fire, One By One, Living For The Alarm
For The Fans Of: Young The Giant, The Maccabees, K Sera

Release Date 25.02.2014

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