Issue #4: Guitar Method by Kid Kilowatt
February 22, 2016
Released On September 15, 2003
Released By Hydra Head & Second Nature Recordings
Kid Kilowatt was a bit of a Boston metallic-hardcore supergroup. Featuring Adam McGrath of Cave In, Kurt Ballou of Converge, Steve Brodsky of both bands, and Matt Redmond of Eulcid, this side project was an outlet for these metalheads’ more melodic instincts. However, their sole full-length release, Guitar Method, almost didn’t see the light of day. Created at a time when Converge and Cave In were in full swing, and Brodsky’s double duty in these two bands was pushing him to the limit of his time and creative energy, Kid Kilowatt quickly fell by the wayside. Guitar Method was actually recorded after they broke up, and several of the songs that ended up on the final album were composed during these posthumous recording sessions.
For me, Kid Kilowatt were always a bit of a white whale. Discovering a demo version of “Bicycle Song” on a free compilation CD included in an issue of Status Magazine, I flipped out. This was clearly the guy who did the occasional clean vocals in Cave In (back when they still had a lead screamer), fronting an awesome revved-up emo band. I wanted more! They’d already broken up by the time I heard them, though. When Cave In engaged in their big post-Until Your Heart Stops transformation to a full-time clean-vocal band, I had high hopes for a return to the Kid Kilowatt sound, but instead I got ponderous post-metal space rock jams that bored me. No dice.
Thankfully, the early days of file sharing saved me. While Guitar Method wasn’t officially released until 2004, the album’s songs had been kicking around on Napster, Audiogalaxy, and Soulseek (where I eventually found them) for years. The day I randomly punched “Kid Kilowatt” into my search bar and uncovered a 14 song “unreleased LP” was a day of celebration for me. I didn’t own a car at the time, but my roommate had gone out of town for a month and left me in charge of his Pontiac Trans Am, so the next morning, I burned myself a CD-R of the album and listened to it for the first time while driving to work.
That morning’s drive probably made a significant contribution to the way Guitar Method impacted me then, though I would think I’d have loved it even if I’d first heard it on a gray winter morning while driving in the rain. Instead, I got the first truly nice day of the year. It was early April, sunny and warm by 9 AM, and I could drive with the windows down and the stereo cranked as the wind blew through my hair. The first half of this album fit the mood perfectly, matching the wonderful day with a sound that was jubilant and inspiring, elevating my mood more and more with each brilliant chorus. The way Ballou’s rolling lead guitar lines on “Red Carpet” intertwined with Steve Brodsky’s double-tracked vocal harmonies was just perfect. The escalation in tempo that occurred as “Peeping Tomboy” shifted from verse to chorus was so triumphant that it made me want to put my fist through the roof of the car. “7th Inning Song Formation“‘s chunky chorus riff added the muscle the members had picked up from their years of playing hardcore without dulling the song’s irresistible pop hook one iota. And “Bicycle Song.” Oh my god. I still don’t think I can do this one justice in words. It’s fucking godlike.
The shift into mellower sounds on the album’s latter half worked just as well. Interestingly enough, it’s only as I write this review now that I realize how front-loaded it is–all the real up-tempo rockers (except “Glass Of Shattered Youth,” a previously-released single that’s technically a bonus track) hit you in the first 23 or so minutes, and the mood slowly downshifts through the back half of the album, culminating in the elegiac beauty of “Tug Of War.” Brodsky’s dejected mumble on the first half of “Memorial Drive” communicates a depth of emotion just as accurately as did his full-throated delivery on the earlier, heavier songs. And even the interludes that provide periodic breathers from the album’s emotional energy (“Cadence For A Rainy Day,” “Rushing To Relax,” et cetera) serve an important purpose in the overall flow.
During the year or so between my discovery of these bootleg mp3s and the official release of Guitar Method, I thought frequently about what a huge injustice it would be to the world if these songs were never made available to the general public. Thankfully, Second Nature and Hydra Head agreed, and finally released the album in 2004. I had no idea it was coming out, and I can remember that I yelped out loud when I found the vinyl version in the basement of the old Plan 9 Records. People gave me funny looks, but I didn’t give a fuck. I was just glad to finally have this record in permanent form. I’m still glad. Converge has a highlight-packed 20-year history, Cave In have produced at least two classics in their career, and I even love the Eulcid album. But for my money, Guitar Method will always be the best album any of these musicians were involved in. I’ll treasure it forever.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
From top left to bottom right: Kurt Ballou, Stephen Brodsky, Adam McGrath, Matt Redmond, & Aaron Stuart. Not all pictures from the same time period sadly.
Getting to know Stephen Brodsky’s music makes for a long introduction. His diverse set of strengths means that different projects can occupy distant quadrants of the rock/metal universe, and getting acquainted one band at a time is a little like making your own interstellar map of those places and the routes between them. Kid Kilowatt advances my Brodsky cartographical experience beyond triangulation–Cave In, Mutoid Man, and his excellent solo album Hit Or Mystery–giving the picture a fourth point of comparison. The prodigious guitar work and multi-faceted voice are here on Guitar Method, as you might expect, but songs like “Radio Pow For Now” and “Peeping Tomboy” push further into moodier, groovier territory. “Rushing To Relax” temporarily escapes the album’s emo orbit–it’s just plain fun, like dancing-spontaneously-from-happiness fun–as does “Cadence For The Desert Sun,” but the gravity of “Ted Nugent” (let’s be clear–the song, not the person) and the epic feel of “Tug Of War” pull you back into Method’s tightly-wound, emotive core. I know I’m beating this space metaphor to death, but I think it resonates for me because Brodsky’s talent really does strike me as expansive. Elastic. He makes metal seem like a bigger place to me. Ironically, the closest star in the Brodsky universe–Converge, given Kurt Ballou’s role in Kid Kilowatt–is one I can’t personally use to compare, but Kid Kilowatt is great motivation for continuing to explore.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
I’m gonna be honest about something straight away. My rock listening “muscles” aren’t the strongest, and as a result, 96% of the time I can only understand 4% of what Stephen Brodsky is singing about. So, I’m not even going to attempt to comment on the songwriting or lyrical prowess of Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method. Instead, I’d like to highlight a few choice moments on the record that smacked me in the face. Oftentimes in visual art, the brilliance lies in the negative space. The contrast. The musical equivalent can be a tempo change, an unexpected chord progression, a juxtaposition of instruments or a general departure from the prevailing sound. This is where we find the brilliance of Guitar Method. “Cadence For A Rainy Day” serves as the album’s first screeching halt (in a good way). You know when they say “give the drummer some?” This is the opposite of that. It’s a track that stands in such stark contrast to the previous four tracks that it nearly feels like a purposeful interlude. The same can be said for “Rushing To Relax” and “Memorial Drive“. It’s almost as if the group knows they need to let the listener take a second to breathe, and gather their thoughts. The crown jewel of the album is “Cadence For The Desert Sun.” Matt Redmond’s drum work here is sensational. His march-like snare takes me to a place where I can close my eyes and totally hear/see this track scoring a pre-battle montage if Hollywood ever makes the colossal mistake of re-making Braveheart.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
There’s a line in the song “The Good Old Days” by The Libertines that goes, “If you’ve lost your faith in love and music; Oh the end won’t be long.” Working on this project for the past few weeks has given me a fresh outlook on some bands that I would never give a second glance to. I’ve never really lost faith in music that I love, perhaps more in musical discovery. Where does this tie into Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method you may well ask? This is an album that I may well have consigned to the scrap heap a month ago, for being a type of music that I struggle to enjoy at the best of times. But what this project has awakened in me, is a realization that music no matter what genre or what generation is deeply personal to the artists that make it and, perhaps even more so, their fans that indulge in what they deliver. Whilst this album may no be my cup of tea so to speak, even the most ardent detractors couldn’t deny there is passion oozing from every track. It is a labour of love from raucous tracks like “Bicycle Song,” to a rather minimalistic thought provoking track like “Rushing To Relax.” The track that stands out most to me though is a sweeping almost metallic rock ballad in “Memorial Drive.” Once the album fades away, I’m left with a pleasant satisfaction that there are people in the music industry that have the love to craft something on their own terms, for fans that love what they offer to the world.
Matt Green (@happymad1986)
Fiery Orator Of Nostalgia
Hearing Stephen Brodsky’s voice reminds me of the time my friend and I got a flat tire on 95 on the way to see Cave In in DC; never-ending train rides, as Cave In often provided the soundtrack via Discman; late nights spent in my college bedrooms alone, listening to Expose Your Overdubs; and my late 90s obsession with the city of Boston. So, there is a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in one voice, even though it’s a very dynamic and effortlessly changing one. How do we separate the nostalgia from the actual artifact, especially when it’s art? I’m not the kind of person who hangs on to the music of my youth, wishing for better times–my nostalgia is usually coated in sadness. I decided to make new, happier memories, as Guitar Method became a soundtrack to me and PJ’s Sunday adventures, driving around town thrifting, and clearing out my childhood home to prepare for my parents’ downsizing, which became an interesting parallel to this record. The melodic guitar lines of “Peeping Tomboy” bring me joy, as does the last minute of the song, which is almost jubilant with its backing vocals and tambourine shakes. The two shortest songs, “Rushing To Relax” and “Cadence For A Rainy Day,” remind me of Overdubs, and I love how they feel like sketches of songs, providing some respite from the more driving, longer tunes like “Ted Nugent.” I don’t know if I completely solved by problem with nostalgia, but I was definitely able to enjoy Guitar Method with open ears and a more positive attitude.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
I’m one of those music nerds that likes to hear everything leading up to, and after, my favorite records. It might not be the most popular opinion, but my favorite Cave In record is without a doubt Antenna. I like metal and hardcore, but when you mix that with good song writing and melody, I’m all ears. After hearing Antenna, I picked up Tides Of Tomorrow and Jupiter, but have never really gotten into any of their other records. Kid Kilowatt was a side project that Stephen Brodsky used to experiment before injecting the results back into Cave In. 90s emo like Sunny Day Real Estate is an obvious influence, but I also hear some 70s rock like Thin Lizzy in the mix. These songs were recorded a few years ahead of the explosion of bands that sound like this. I’m not sure how much influence they had since the recording didn’t get a proper release until 2003. What is one of the most impressive thing about Guitar Method? Most of these guys were in still high school.
PJ Sykes (@pjsykes)
Gutsy Punk Renaissance Man
Guitar Method was prefaced by a two song EP in 2001 called Hit Single that contained “Peeping Tomboy” & “Glass Of Shattered Youth.” The more you know…
Is referring to any band as a side project becoming taboo? In the case of Kid Kilowatt, there are many arguments that could be made in favor of either side. The band existed for a short timespan due to the fact that the members’ other projects began to take precedence. Yet, the songs and directions taken on Guitar Method could argue that they would in many ways inform the sonic evolutions of Cave In, Converge, and maybe even slightly Piebald. This anthology of material from the group that was recorded between 1996-1999 is an enormous surprise to me. A band I was aware existed and one that I just never got around to giving a proper listen. That is truly a shame, because they hit a lot of post-hardcore marks that should resonate strongly among listeners of the genre. “Tug Of War” seems to be the standout track for its blend of all things that made a great Kid Kilowatt song. It’s lengthy, but it never shows or feels that way. It’s a perfect showcase of Stephen Brodsky’s vocal abilities and easily what most Cave In fans would become more familiar with as the Jupiter era of that group would take shape. The energy and dynamics behind tracks like “Glass Of Shattered Youth” and “Bicycle Song” are quite remarkable as well. Brodsky had mentioned that a lot of this band had been inspired by Sunny Day Real Estate and The Promise Ring, which one can quickly sense. Yet, The Promise Ring analogy is probably the most fascinating. If only, because Kid Kilowatt in many ways feels like the northeastern equivalent of Cap’n Jazz for what all of those members would go on to create and the legacy that a group like Kid Kilowatt can leave with listeners, even up to the present.
Shannon Cleary (@thatssocleary)
Musical Explorer Of All Angles
From the second I put Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method on, I immediately felt like I was back in college and in my punk rock phase. Kid Kilowatt starts off with chaos and doesn’t let up for the next 55 minutes. I found myself quickly humming along to “Radio Pow For Now” and my God, I’m in love with “Bicycle Song.” An added bonus was learning that Kid Kilowatt was made up of members of Cave In and Converge, two bands that I had really enjoyed listening to. There’s something really raw about this record and I’m having trouble putting my finger on it. Maybe it’s the simplistic songs that are also somehow very complicated. Maybe it’s the screaming vocals that clearly illustrate the power and emotion behind the words. Or maybe it’s just that this record is an unpolished, honest way of presenting the music. All I know is that I really enjoyed hearing Guitar Method from start to finish.
Andrew Cothern (@rvaplaylist)
Beloved & Influential Richmond Chronicler
In a world of early late 90’s arena rock bands (Oasis, The Verve, et cetera), Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method seems like even more of a rejection of the established music scene than its predecessors such as the rise of grunge in the early 90’s and the punk revolution in the 80’s. While Oasis were catering to the softly sung rock needs of a heartbroken post grunge world, Kid Kilowatt was offering a more awaken perspective of the raw and uncut world around us. Guitar Method is slightly unkempt, overgrown, and disheveled to the core, and that is probably on purpose. Instead of insisting on mending the late 90’s mid-life crisis hearts, Kid Kilowatt gives a new, realer view of the world. Handing us the obvious on the same plate as rattling guitars and out of key vocals, Kid Kilowatt gives the instructions to keep moving through, and to make it out to the other end of the current situation. For the majority of the LP, Kid Kilowatt maintains a level of energy and intensity not found often among smaller acts, or any acts. This intensity is sparingly and purposefully juxtapositioned by a finger picked guitar hook and laid back vocal, but this is spare, and is exclusively used when it’s just not possible to keep the energy up any longer. Notable standouts on the LP include: “Peeping Tomboy,” which playfully jumps back and forth between groove and drive, dance, and mosh; “Cadence For A Rainy Day,” a track that is as blissful as it is a mess; and “Cadence For The Desert Sun,” an odd but interesting cut that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the record. Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method is an outstanding and thrilling amalgam of every rock genre that breathes on its own and leaves nothing unanswered.
Tyler Sirovy (@tswarovy)
Budding Appraiser Of Sonic Complexities
Is this the only official picture of Kid Kilowatt? Well, it’s all we could find so enjoy!
Five seconds into this album, I thought, “Oh, I would have loved this in college,” but the truth is that I love it now just as much as I would have then. Kid Kilowatt sound like Thursday at their best with more guitars and a more varied sound. I was not surprised to learn that they were a supergroup containing members of both Converge and Piebald. I just never realized that it would result in a sound that was so interesting and engaging! Highlights for me in a general sense were “7th Inning Song Formation” and “Bicycle Song.” Elsewhere on the album, “Glass Of Shattered Youth” sounded very much like a modern-day Police. I’m really hoping that people who’ve heard the track know what I’m talking about because based on what I’ve said so far, that shouldn’t be the case, but it is. And then you add in the one random blast of the noisemaker sound from Bob Dylan’s song “Highway 61 Revisited” and it’s just wonderful. The last song that I want to highlight is a “headphones song” so put on your headphones or pop in your earbuds and check out the killer drums in “Cadence For The Desert Sun.” This is an album that I will come back to again and again.
James Anderson (@unabashedjames)
Devoted Docent Of Musical Concepts
I’ve never been a huge fan of supergroups. I find that a lot of the time the conflicting styles and sounds the musicians bring from their other bands clashes and the final product is never as satisfying as you hope. Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method, recorded over a number of years by Cave-In’s Stephen Brodsky and Adam McGrath, Converge’s Kurt Ballou, and Piebald’s Aaron Stuart, could have followed that similar worn path. Yet they manage to pull off a tight, coherent, and ambitious body of work that defines late-90s rock. This is a record that giddily veers between indie rock and post-hardcore for the majority of its running time. Opening tracks “The Scope” and “Red Carpet” are fast and heavy, but they are instantly followed by “Radio Pow For Now,” a slower indie-pop track that almost sounds like something Weezer would record. The best song on the record is also its last. “Tug Of War” feels like a coming together of all the ideas presented in the previous thirteen tracks to produce a moving and emotional six-minute finale. Whilst Guitar Method may not be an album I return to often in the future, it is an album that deserves your time. It feels like a labour of love from the musicians, and when so much heart and passion is thrown into a record, it needs to be heard.
James Peart (@choccyr)
Fascinated Binger Of Musical Zeitgeist
There’s a lot of things Guitar Method shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be this dramatic. Cave In (and all the others previously listed in this issue) can be pretty dramatic at times, but they also do so with several layers of effects or spastic song structures. Indie rock or post-hardcore aside, Guitar Method is basically a garage record and their ability to make a garage record this intense and affected is just staggering. It also should not be this cohesive, and I don’t just mean the band itself. The most wildly available version of this record actually has three “bonus tracks” towards the end that were left off of the original vinyl release. I can’t recall one instance where bonus tracks have improved the flow and overall quality of a record in a way like Guitar Method. Really, if you listen to this version and discuss it with someone who’s only heard the 11 song vinyl version, you’re talking about two completely different records for a million reasons. Just compare the original closing track “Cadence For The Desert Sun” versus the bonus closer “Tug Of War” and you’ll see. Above all, Guitar Method should be this damn good. Not only was it out of the comfort zone for most of the musicians, but it flew in the face of the celebrated records that followed like Cave In’s Jupiter and Antenna, Converge’s Jane Doe, or even Piebald’s We Are The Only Friends We Have. Zooming out, it was buried for five years and even when it came out, it didn’t seem that intentional of a release, more of a “why not” sort of thing. Guitar Method shouldn’t be all of these things, but it is and truly more. It overcomes so much that should instantly kill a new project and even if it’s still overlooked all these years later, it endures to a level that’s unquestionably deserving of classic status
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Kid Kilowatt’s Guitar Method is, duh, all about the guitars–an assessment I thought was at least marginally profound before I took a second look at what the album title was. Opener “The Scope” is a bracing swirl of fuzzed guitars and Stephen Brodsky’s plaintive howl, a perfect entry into the band’s sound. And at first, it seemed that the whole album would be propellant post-rock jams just like “The Scope.” Thankfully, Kid Kilowatt include a few interludes and, as the songs started to blur together for me around “Bicycle Song,” switch things up a bit with “Ted Nugent,” a track that kicks off the more stylistically varied back half of the record (and includes some truly pretty backing vocals in its quieter moments). Heartbreak song “Memorial Drive” has a seductive guitar hook, as well as one of the most hilariously self-aware lyrics ever written: “Yeah I know it sounds like a shitty rock’n’roll song from 1987.” “Cadence For The Desert Sun” is the most intriguing track, with drones, marching snare, booming drums, and layers of vocal lines coming together so well that it makes me wish Kid Kilowatt had taken even more musical risks like this one.
David Munro (@david_c_munro)
Idiosyncratic Avant-Garde Wanderer
This record shines, though it has nothing to do with glitz. Its brilliance is forged by intensity and dynamism. The captivating tumult of “Peeping Tomboy” moving into the one of two miniature pieces — where the space deepens and the notes sparkle — shows the range Kid Kilowatt spans. “Bicycle Song” is a beautiful schizophrenic concoction that is as viby as it is metallic. Though not what I would call fuzzy, this album is still deliciously chunky and chocked full of gorgeous, chimey drive. It has a squeaky, slippery heaviness that speaks as much delicacy as hardcore aggression. But yes, on Guitar Method, pick slides abound and to dazzling effect! The notes dance around each other tightly and searing lines wind and bind together. When we get to “Memorial Drive,” I hear the type of interplay and atmosphere I first encountered with the late 90’s wave of post-rock guitar bands like Tristeza. It’s aces. After a dogleg of a drone march intermission, “Glass Of Shattered Youth” rips into the scene with a razor sharp, Promise Ring tinged number. The pick-work is as invigorating as it is dizzying. The chords are big and shimmery across the board. The album closes with skittery drum production and the introduction of some synth on “Tug Of War,” a nice fulfillment of the record’s winding trajectory. I’ll take it!
Matt Klimas (@nearcticfauna)
Surveyor Of All Things Fuzz
Expecting To Fly by The Bluetones
Chosen By Matt Green