The short-playing EP serves two traditional roles in rock-band strategy. Its primary purpose is introductory. EPs are often an opening salvo, a proof-of-concept. They are perforce modest: four or six songs, basic album art and nothing too conceptually extravagant in the music itself. They stake out a spot and say, “Remember the name, if so inclined.” “LP forthcoming.”
The other function of EPs – and the reason why they maintain value throughout the rock-band life cycle – is revolutionary, or at least reintroductory: to announce change and reestablish identity. EPs are naturally congenial to coherence and focus. The short form encourages “single-effect” statements and thematic consistency, both because the artists can be hyperselective and because the length of an EP mitigates monotony, makes variety less of a structural imperative. Established bands will often deploy a tight little EP to announce a rebirth or an identity experiment that falls outside the parameters that they have established with their work to date.
Home, the new EP by Kingston’s Kyle & the Pity Party, manages to do both. The titular Kyle (McDonough) is no newbie to the scene; he has been steadily writing and releasing impressive songs for a long time. In his role as front-of-house engineer at BSP and other local venues, he is known to many in the music community. And this band, the Pity Party, has been booking aggressively for a couple of years, playing all the clubs and events, grabbing every national-act opening slot they can and just generally saying “yes” to everything. They’ve established their brand – a high-drama, romantic and emotionally charged take on two-guitar indie-rock – by working their asses off.
While it is not their recording debut, Home has the feel of a tidy four-song “This is us” introduction to something most of us already knew. But it also does that other EP thing. It is nothing if not a deeply coherent and unwavering aesthetic statement, both musically and thematically. It nails down the band’s current stylistic coordinates and influences unambiguously, a modern and slightly grungified update of ’80s New Romanticism: Goth, New Order and the Furs desynthesized and reconstructed as indie-rock. The vocal delivery is pure ’80s youth-culture declamation, but the music also tastes of the easy/queasy guitar sheets of My Bloody Valentine, some Pixies logic in the arrangements and even a lightly incongruous touch of Pavement grad-school stumbling in the feel.
Grave, quavering and thick with broad-stroke existential crisis, McDonough’s operatic-indie vocals dominate the center of the mix and the listening experience. The lyrical themes are a complex yin/yang construct of modern alienation and the persistence of idealism and hope. In the first single, “My Car,” McDonough sings of a kind of voluntary estrangement – indeed, a voluntarily homelessness – preferred to the empty shell of a failed relationship, a failed home and (it is easy to extrapolate) a failed culture.
At the back end of the EP, the highlight track “Winona Forever” clings to the heightened romance of youth and its refusal to give over easily to the life that society has laid out. But Home is a modern EP, not a nostalgic one. Even as it borrows their voice, its grim sense of the world would have scared the crap out of the Breakfast Club kids. This is not, “Oh shit, now I have to go make a lot of money in Reagan’s America,” but rather, “Oh shit, there’s nothing but wolves waiting for me in Trump’s America even if I wanted a comfortable middle-class life – only Mike Rowe’s Refrigerator Repair Academy or a life in the service sector.” With the monetized rock-star dream a non-starter, there isn’t even a vaguely viable myth of transcendence and triumph via art and passion to gamble on anymore. It’s f*cking bleak, which is why McDonough’s beseeching, romantic refrain, “Help me feel Winona forever,” seems relevant, genuinely romantic and desperate – and not at all retro.
Kyle & the Pity Party celebrate the release of Home at what is, in fact, their home: BSP in Kingston on Friday, February 9 at 7:30 p.m. The long-running passionate rockers Nightmare for a Week will be on hand to rev us up, as well as Christian Evanko & the Stash. Admission costs $8. For more information, visit www.bspkingston.com. BSP is located at 323 Wall Street in Kingston.