Text Azzief Khaliq
NOT KILLING IT
The first time you drop the needle on Killeur Calculateur’s new LP, Book of Flags, you might be forgiven for doing a double take; most of the running time of the three-and-a-half minute opener ‘Red Marquee’ consists of noodly clean guitar, run through delay and reverb, with the distortion only kicking in for the final 20 seconds or so of the track. It’s quite a statement from a band that used to be known for quickfire post-hardcore romps, and it sets the tone for the rest of the album quite well. Whether the tone that it sets is a good one is a whole other question.
Let’s get the main thing out of the way first – the big problem with Book of Flags is simply the fact that the songwriting just isn’t quite there. It’s not that the songs are bad, it’s just that most of the songs come across as a bit… pedestrian. Competent, yes, but a bit pedestrian and, frankly, boring. Sure, in a way it’s commendable that they’ve expanded their sonic and songwriting palette a bit; writing longer songs and focusing on more than just the short and sharp. But it’s a problem when it results in draggy and plodding music that just doesn’t have enough going for it.
Killeur Calculateur, to these ears, have always been a band that were never quite as good on record as they were live, mostly due to a lack of strong songwriting chops, and Book of Flags sounds a lot like what you’d expect when a band like that tries to write longer, more expansive songs: Draggy half-formed sketches stretched out to three minute lengths that struggle to justify even their relatively modest running time.
Shorn of the wiry energy and quick, concise delivery present on Valley of the Dead, Book of Flags just plods along, lacking the hooks and infectious energy – and interesting songwriting touches – to really draw listeners in. Sure, tracks such as ‘Ta!’, ‘Tera/Metric’, and album closer ’Good Things Don’t Last Forever’ are actually pretty decent, with ‘Tera/Metric’ having hands down the best riff on the album and ‘Ta!’ displaying the sort of infectious bounce that the rest of the album lacks, but on the whole it’s hard to shake the feeling that the other tracks such as ‘Mess History’ and ‘The Suit’ really show the band’s limitations when it comes to songwriting, limitations that the relatively longer running times really show in stark detail.
‘The Suit’, for instance, can’t even justify its five-minute length, providing precious little in the way of anything truly interesting. ‘Mess History’ starts out somewhat promisingly, but never really shifts up a gear, never really goes anywhere… and then it ends. That’s actually the story of the album as a whole: The songs start, go through the motions, and end, mostly without ever really grabbing the listener’s attention, either through quality songwriting, catchy hooks or pure, infectious energy. And when you only have 30 minutes to make an impression, this is a huge problem. The biggest sin a sub-30-minute rock album can make is to pass by without making enough of an impression, and Book of Flags commits this very sin.
Really, it all just feels a bit stuck in the middle: unable to win the listener over via a consistent display of infectious, propulsive energy, but at the same time lacking in the songwriting chops to make up for the lack of energy and drive. Couple this with the subpar songwriting and you have a lacklustre and mediocre album in your hands – never truly dreadful, but never really ever great either.