Manchester progressive rock quartet We Are Kin’s second album – entitled …and I know… – was released on 8th July. I’ve taken a special interest in We Are Kin since becoming aware of them and their 2015 debut album, Pandora, which I was asked to review.
There are already reviews of this new one out there. I don’t often read other reviews, at least, not until mine is published. I don’t want to occidentally or subliminally plagiarise. Cards on the table: this is a good album. I suspect that all you have already read about it – the praise, at least – is true. In fact, musically there’s little more that I can add. So why read on? Well, I asked myself how I could add to the existing reviews in a meaningful way that doesn’t just regurgitate what you may already have heard. Here it is.
Their label, Bad Elephant Music made this statement on Social Media:-
“…and I know… continues the story of Isaac, as first told in the band’s ‘mature and well realised’ [that was me! WINK] debut album, Pandora. This is the first recording to feature the revitalized core quartet, with vocalist Emma Brewin-Caddy and bass player Lee Braddock joining founding members Daniel Zambas and Gary Boast.”
Perhaps this album should have been called “And I know that one day we’ll have to say goodbye”, but We Are Kin have cleverly entitled it and the tracks in such a way as to give a message hidden in plain sight – once you know. Pandora was one of my first ever album reviews. I took the responsibility seriously and researched the band a little, contacting Alex Dunedin (who plays Isaac, around whom this album’s concept revolves). He infected me with his enthusiastic responses.
Some say Alex’s voice can give you a knowledge orgasm. Some say; “If there was an apocalypse, I’d want him to tell me about it.” (Gary Boast).
All we know is, he’s called Alex Dunedin. [EDITOR: Stop that, Phil!!!]
This time I chatted with co-writer, keyboard player and guitarist Dan, using a well-known Social Medium. That was on the weekend of the album launch. He was fresh from a Skype session with Tom Slatter, his Mad “Steam-Punk-Professor” and Bad Elephant stablemate, but even this could not curb Dan’s enthusiasm.
Dan and I had already been in the same chat room the night before when there was an on-line event to launch the album. It coincided with a Podcast conducted by Emma at Progzilla.
Our Saturday one-to-one wasn’t a formal interview – Dan and I mostly just chatted about shopping – but I did put a few questions to him about the Pandora trilogy of albums, for trilogy it will be, and we arranged to email each other with a summary of the …and i know… related chat.
Who’d like to see that? [EDITOR: Enough with the Top Gear auditions Phil, it isn’t going to happen] Roll the tape [EDITOR: seriously?]:-
PHIL: Is it fair to say that the album is a concept album and that it carries on where Pandora left off?
DAN: Absolutely, Pandora is very much an ‘A to B’ story (although the story actually takes place during a moment between The End and The Door – it’s being told from the ‘bunker’ that the main character is hiding in. Basically a retrospective. The only clue to this is the booklet with the album, next to each song is a little message about this).
PHIL: Can you refresh our memory? What became of the main protagonist, what does the Pandora World look like now?
DAN: At the end of Pandora, Isaac (played by Alex Dunedin) takes his own life. The reason for this is that Pandora has merged with him, and the only way she can be stopped causing any more damage is if Isaac (the host) ceases. But in that moment Pandora witnesses self-sacrifice in Isaac and as a result experiences and absorbs his full emotions at the time. If you read the lyrics to The Door that is from Pandora’s perspective at that moment, this whole part of the story is Pandora developing a humanity by merging with Isaac. The world itself is recovering from the fallout of war which has occurred as a result of other countries being threatened by the power that Pandora holds.
PHIL: I know from what Lee was saying during the podcast that his experiences with the birth of his daughter shaped the lyrical content of the album. Has it affected the concept and, if so, can you explain how?
DAN: It was like a glove, the lyrics were about a personal situation that beautifully fit into the concept about Isaac and his regret for his partner in Pandora, his wife Helena (the songs Home Sweet Home / Soul / Let Me In are about that relationship although we never name her directly – the plane that was crashed by Pandora in The Hard Decision was carrying Helena, and this leads to Without Them). So the beautiful thing about the story was that it was quite open to merging with personal experiences of the bands lyricists, Emma and Lee (along with some lyrics I had done). In summary, it reinforced the concept albeit it in a subtle way.
PHIL: Will the third album be the conclusion of Pandora? Can we expect more albums that are not concept based before the story is concluded?
DAN: There will be a third Pandora album, watch the end of The Speech video and pay attention to Isaac… He wakes up ‘with Pandora’. But our next work won’t be within this concept, we are going to try something new and return to Pandora when the time is right. Also I have a spin-off story…
PHIL: Regarding the writing – was this a difficult process? I’m fascinated by the chicken/egg thing when it comes to writing. Sometimes I write words but have no music. Mostly I make music and fit words afterwards. As you had the concept down already did this dictate how the music developed because it needed to fit the story?
DAN: Before we started it properly it was a bit daunting. We had some demos; Reaper / Radio / No Evil which were old songs written just after Pandora by me and Gary, but we needed thematic pieces that would tie the story together. After creating That One Day we knew we had a ‘flavour’ that we didn’t have on Pandora that excited us very much. Emma wrote some exceptional lyrics for the beginning and ending verses that linked into the story and then Lee added his. After that we began creating Goodbye which was triggered by me hearing the new Lazuli album Nos âmes saoules, I loved their use of space and piano and created the intro for Goodbye with Gary tinkering around with ‘Tape Delay’ – after we had begun we knew we had the closing of the album on its way. Basically once we got going, we had some momentum and we finished everything off in about 12 weeks from demo to final recordings.
PHIL: Last word on the writing process; do you write the dots for the songs or writing is it more a recording process?
DAN: Dots for songs? No, I can’t really read music – it’s like a 5 year old reading a sci-fi book…. Writing is usually a recording process. That One Day / Goodbye for example were recorded as we wrote them. Exhale was done outside of recording and it’s the only example of that on the album
PHIL: And your best ever car…? [EDITOR: I’m watching you, Lively!]
Well, there you go.
The album sees the band taking a huge step forward in terms of writing, performance and production. It will appeal to both existing fans and all lovers of excellent conceptual song-writing. There is time and space on this album, almost as if the pressure is off. This implies that they were under pressure with Pandora which isn’t necessarily accurate, as it was recorded before they signed to Bad Elephant. Nevertheless, it seems to be used more efficiently here.
You can’t pin this album down to one genre. As a sum of their parts and as an ensemble you can hear different influences. There is a definite jazz feel, accentuated by Emma’s singing style (refreshingly clear of that “cracked voice” affectation – I could listen to her all day), on some of the tracks. Yet in other places this is heavy electronica, in places it is atmospheric like a movie soundtrack, in others bordering on the industrial. Goodbye is possibly the most accomplished track on the album. It triggers different emotions throughout. Aptly, Adam McCann returned to the Kin and played guitar on it – Adam, from what I know of him, being a definite fan of metal. I forgot to ask, but I strongly suspect he provided the heavy riffing in the early part of the track.
Dan’s vocals, sitting somewhere between baritone and tenor, are fuller and more confident on this album. On Pandora I likened them to Roger Waters; he conveyed the story perfectly. He appears to have cast any timidity to the fates and thrown himself right in. Curiously his speaking voice is totally not what you’d expect! Mostly the guitar on the album fills in the sound, as do, on the whole, the synthesizers. Any instruments only come to the fore when there is a reason to do so. The drums and the bass do exactly what is needed of them and that sums up the band really: they’re not show-boating; they are telling a story with music. This is a proper band. That’s what I like.
And then there’s the cunning bit at the end of the credits. Have I said too much? Maybe! Wake up!
Buy this and, if you don’t already have it, buy Pandora.
…And on that bombshell…
01. …that one day… (10:18)
02. No Evil (4:57)
03. Radio (5:21)
04. …we’ll have to say… (3:23)
05. Reaper (6:46)
06. Exhale (4:10)
07. …goodbye (12:04)
Total Time – 46:59
Emma Brewin-Caddy – Vocals
Lee Braddock – Bass
Dan Zambas – Guitars, Keyboards & Vocals
Gary Boast – Drums & Production
Sean O’Meara – Guitar (track 1)
Ramsey Janini – Flute (track 4)
Adam McCann – Flute (track 7)
Record Label: Bad Elephant Music
Release Date: 8th July 2016