Listening to the new record Terrestrials from indie rock band Ghosts of the Kodiak got this reviewer to thinking about what separates rock groups into the disparate camps of “pop” and its considered antithesis, “underground”. On the one hand, the Sumter by-way-of Charlotte post rockers have got pop sensibilities galore; both their latest release and previous ones show a propensity for hooks and thoughtful production with the radio-cultured atmosphere of a Cold Play or Radiohead. Lurking beneath all that, though, is that certain almost undefinable factor that keeps a band from seeming like it’s just shifting units to build a cold career. Ghosts of the Kodiak have that “it” thing that keeps bands that they share a kinship with, like say Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco or Explosions in the Sky, on the periphery of the mass acceptance experienced by the previously mentioned musicians. Maybe it’s the emo-ish tint to their glimmering moments of transcendent post rock that puts them in a different class for me? Maybe it’s the way they take all the old shadows of their senior bands and use them to transport the listener into a new light. Either way, singer-guitarist Caleb Smith does a great job of selling pop but not in a sell-out way along with the rest of the band, William Powell (guitars), Nathan Parker (drums) and Stephen Narron (bass).
Opener “Afterthought” starts moodily in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place on The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin, but it has got an upbeat post rock vibe that transcends that comparison. “Vices” is the record’s obvious choice for a single, its lyrics soberly dealing with the relative merits of lifestyle choices in a straightforward but philosophical way. It’s also catchy as hell and will get stuck in your head, as an added bonus. The title track is somber and piano-driven and maybe a Radiohead homage, lyrically? Great use of extra instrumentation here. “The Wasteland” could be a New Model Army song, both in a musical and ideological way, and that’s meant as a crazy good compliment. “Ash & Snow” is laid back and soaring at the same time and GotK have really got a handle on that dichotomous motif. There is an acoustic version of “Vices”, showcasing the strong bones on the skeletal version of the track and the record ends with a demo, “AKA”, with a drifting ride that is as solid as anything else on here.
Intelligent and ambitious, Terrestrials shows that the band can still dream loudly. Whether you call it pop or indie, you are probably still right. The group can slip in and out of rigid definitions and my only complaint is that South Carolina doesn’t have a sole claim on them anymore. Go check them out while they are still local because they could easily leave for bigger scenes with Terrestrials.
Recommended if you like: Radiohead, The National, Death Cab for Cutie
Sean Knight is a native South Carolinian who has spent his life bouncing back and forth between SC and Texas, playing in bands you probably never heard of in both states and stinking up open-mic nights in the Low Country for many years. He plays, collects, listens to and probably spends too much of his life obsessing over music.