From the hypnotic pulsing heartbeat that begins Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth to moments of seeming, searing chaos amid the hypnotic, anchoring grooves, Kiev's debut album bestows 60 minutes and 13 songs of aural fascination. The quintet forges a seamless balance of music for both the mind and soul, a heady miasma of songs, sounds and emotions that's at once approachable and transportive.
Formed in Orange, California, Kiev was a slow burn, extracting inspiration from improv, working in cohesive insularity in their creative space, a 1940s avocado warehouse. Kiev, formed by singer/guitarist Robert Brinkerhoff, was fully realized in 2009 by carefully adding members, one by one over the years, organically metamorphosing into a lineup with an uncanny ability to weave decades of musical traditions into a cohesive fabric. Kiev is about layers: Between the five members, an intricate, tight-knit web of post punk, psychedelic funk, indie, jazz, jam, and minimalist styles are conjured through meticulous musicianship and mastery of electronics. Adding to the musical imagery on the album are guest players contributing French horns, bass clarinets, bassoon, trombone, oboe and ARP synthesizers.
Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth (produced/engineered alongside Chris Shaw – Wilco, Super Furry Animals, Phish) and released by Suspended Sunrise Recordings, follows two independent EPs that marked the Kiev musical progression. Their 2010 EP, Ain't No Scary Folks In On Around Here, was reviewed as "like having your ear work on a good puzzle," while the single "Crooked Strings" earned extensive airplay on KROQ's Locals Only show. The Be Gone Dull Cage & Others EP followed in 2011 (co-produced / engineered by Darrell Thorp – Beck, Air, Radiohead), and, explains Brinkerhoff, "were mile markers'" in the band's introverted, slow-brew creative process, with Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth on the horizon since the first EP. Kiev was also named "Best Indie Band" at the 2011 and 2012 Orange County Music Awards, and cited for "intricate, eclectic music and big live sound." Other kudos followed: The Buzzbands.la blog describes their sound as "trippy and cerebral at the same time, occupying that sometimes-exhilarating, sometimes-discomfiting space between left and right brain" as well as an emerging artist spotlight from RollingStone.com.
Though the band draws inspiration through contemporary art and pays homage to minimalist composer Steve Reich, Kiev create inclusionary music that can be appreciated at any - and many - levels. As Brinkerhoff notes, "The instrumental aspect is super visceral, it all revolves around grooves that immediately appeal to us. Percussion is definitely the pulse of this band - we all love West African, gamelan, and orchestral percussion music." Kiev speaks to "the reptilian part of our brains," laughs Brinkerhoff.” We just want to move around like animals, and that often drives the foundation of our music. But then there's the cerebral part, the lyrics and compositions that speak to personal and social themes."
As the two-part album title indicates, Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth mines more than one source for inspiration. The album cover is a large scale water color painting - called ‘Falling Bough’ - by contemporary naturalist artist Walton Ford, and depicts the now-extinct breed of passenger pigeons swarming a bough as it’s crushed under their weight. During the album's conception, the painting remained on the warehouse computer desktop and both literally and figuratively became the backdrop and context to which the album’s themes blossomed.
"The painting immediately blew our mind," says Brinkerhoff. "The dense layers, the skillfulness, and complex emotion spoke directly to us." A band of educated seekers and trained musicians, the band explores the current human condition, but imbues their music with both personal micro meanings and a more macro, universal approach. "It’s a difficult but worthy thing to try for," Brinkerhoff believes. "There are lots of reasons to make music, but you shouldn’t be embarrassed to try and say something with it." Their music spoke to album cover artist Ford, who, upon hearing Kiev's songs, gave his permission for his painting to grace the cover. Talk about serendipity.
While Kiev might share some sensibilities with contemporary bands including Grizzly Bear, My Morning Jacket and Jaga Jazzist, the band's collective favorite piece of music is by '60s minimalist music pioneer Steve Reich (who, as a child, Brinkerhoff saw perform!) and in homage, Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth features several songs that begin with "Pulsing." Akin to chapters on the album, the word/sound refers to Reich's technique used in “Music For 18 Musicians” – the rhythmic staccato crescendo and decrescendo of voices. "It has a very spooky quality," observes Brinkerhoff. "As the sound rises from nothing, it always had the feeling of conscience or thought poking at you, begging you to 'pay attention! This is important!' We wanted to name those particular songs ‘Pulsing’ to make the direct link. The correlation between the influence of the piece and the album’s themes really worked for us."
Adding to the musical layers is a commensurate strong visual element in their live shows. While the music may itself invoke synesthesia (the ability to "see" or "feel" music or "hear" colors), Kiev often adds a multi-faceted synchronized 3-D projection element to their live performances. Thanks to a plethora of creative animator and projection/theatre collaborators, Kiev's live stereoscopic 3-D set with visuals projected and choreographed to their music earned Kiev a "3DFF Pioneer Award" for their performance at the 2011 3DFF Theatre Fest.
Despite the band's realized ambitions and levels of musical, lyrical and visual creativity, Kiev remains a band of friends whose chief joy is making music together. "Every rehearsal," Brinkerhoff says, " we improv for hours and try and make each other laugh. When we go on trips toegether, we always bring a slew of instruments and recording devices and get loose in the desert. It's a deep connection the band has that we hope extends to the audience. Any given song contains each guy's fingerprint," he furthers. "The cohesiveness speaks to how much time we spend together and how well we know each other. "
Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth is indeed a testimony to the personal and artistic journey that Brinkerhoff, Corn, Poulsen, Stavas, and Wright began upon forming years ago (the band name came via a haiku about travelling in winter). That Kiev's lineup has remained solid, enhanced and expanded with each joining member, is further testament that the journey is on the right track, the collective and individual exportation of music, contemplation and art coming to fruition in Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth. Musically and thematically the album comes full circle, ending with "Pulsing: Home Now," as the album ends with a cautionary note of hope, concluding: "We're home now/Home for good /Let's put away the thoughts that destroy us all."