Artist: Kneeling in Piss
Album / Label: The Mob / Anyway Records
Rating: 8 / 10
Over the past year or so, Kneeling in Piss has emerged as one of Columbus’s finest upstart lo-fi power-pop/punk collectives. Particularly, they gained a great deal of local and regional attention for their debut LP Tour de Force, a record born out of the tensions of an unprecedented time. Alex Mussawir and his merry band of collaborators sculpted their sounds out of the rage and chaos of the post-2016 social disorder, touching upon (and railing against) authoritarian politics, the disillusionment of capitalist society, and communication breakdown. In doing so, they formed a rough-and-ready ensemble of talented underground musicians, and struck a chord with listeners seeking an outsider’s perspective with a sound to match.
The band’s follow-up, a four-track EP called The Mob, was born into an equally fraught but markedly different time and world, one far from its original conception and release. Mussawir, whose past credits include local band Future Nuns, wanted The Mob to serve as the first in a series of short EPs, which would form an album after being released throughout the year.
Of course, the ongoing global pandemic/horror show has put the exact future of this endeavor, and of live music, up in the air for the moment. But just as they have done before and continue to do, Kneeling in Piss remains relentlessly energetic, defiantly lo-fi, and scathingly critical of the systems of oppression that bind us and stifle our daily lives.
Perhaps the aspect of the band most refreshing to the ear is the uniqueness of their approach. None of the songs here, nor on their first album, are terribly complicated from a technical perspective; the interesting stuff comes from their knack for off-kilter arrangements and propensity for lo-fi recording. The result is an oddly specific spin on rock songwriting you will not get anywhere else, and a playground to hear some entirely unexpected sounds along the way.
The title track opens the EP and sets the tone sonically right away, surrounding shuffling, country-fried electric guitars with a blown-out, scruffy rhythm section. Other sounds flit and flutter around the edges of the mix: a screech of unspecified feedback, glass breaking, the wail of a trumpet, the electronic extension of a sample of Mussawir’s voice as he sings about sitting in his chair. “I find that which I oppose surrounds me,” he deadpans, as the band chugs and crashes around him. Right from the jump, it’s evident that Kneeling in Piss continue to write and play on their own terms, and that the endgames of those writings are not always cut-and-dried.
High Desert strikes up a slightly post-punk atmosphere, with sprightly electric guitar parts dancing around a tight bass groove. Mussawir, ever the consummate novelist, has a writer’s eye for the little lyrical details, tossing off asides imbued with personal meaning: “A boulevard is a road no one I know lives on / No one I know, no one I know for long.” The song conjures images of dusty, abandoned desert towns, transporting the listener to blistering heat waves on sand-swept streets. We only get to stay there for just over two minutes, but our brief sojourn (was it only a mirage?) is quite effective.
Song About Dating is exactly that, but not quite: naturally, in keeping with the rest of the Kneeling in Piss oeuvre, it is off-kilter and from a very specific place and point-of-view. The song feels skeptical but not cynical, open to possible relationships while remaining quite wary of them. As such, the lyrics reflect this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t mentality toward love: “You act so friendly / I act so mean / But don’t leave so quickly / Don’t go so soon.” It makes dating sound like a dreadful, listless slog – which, let’s be honest, it so often is. The music ambles along at a mid-tempo groove like a walk in the park, accentuated by twangy, sprawling electric guitars.
The four-tracker closes out with Stop Practicing Your Instruments, the band’s anti-anthem and tongue-in-cheek rallying cry. Mussawir has spoken in the past about preferring to define the band’s songs by interesting writing and arrangements, as opposed to audio fidelity and technical prowess. As such, the band turns its sarcastic words and writing voice upon itself, adding an interesting edge to the acrimony of their lyrics: “Stop practicing your instruments! / Stop renting out the practice space! / Don’t repress the cassette tape! / Nobody listened to it anyway!”
Coupled with a mid-song aside about rock bands being uninteresting, it’s easy to read these sentiments as bitter, but actually listening to the song suggests that it’s more of a knowing piss-take. (Now that I think of it, didn’t I see a few Kneeling in Piss members at the practice space a few weeks ago?) Besides, musically the song feels lighthearted and self-aware, couching the statements in a straight-faced, somewhat goofy rock tune. Specifically, a simple but lovely keyboard lead and some squalling electric guitars tie the whole thing neatly in a bow.
The more I listen to this EP, and to Kneeling in Piss generally, I keep uncovering layers I only vaguely noticed the first few times around. Not just sonically, either: the writing is multifaceted in all aspects, which gives these seemingly simple songs quite a bit of breadth and depth beneath their scuzzy surfaces.
This is a band with a lot of heart, and many very talented people working in tandem to make it all happen. What’s more, they don’t always go for the easy or obvious solution – unless, of course, it’s neither easy nor obvious to do just that. I’m not sure of the post-COVID fate of their planned stretch of EPs, but The Mob is proof that the band can hold their own in both short- and long-form works – and that their artistic voice remains fresh, intriguing and vital.
- The Mob
- High Desert
- Song About Dating
- Stop Practicing Your Instruments