The members of K-Holes, out of Brooklyn, originally conceived themselves as a dirge surf band. That’s a category that is, at least right now, not very well defined, but let’s think about what it might sound like. You can imagine say, “Surfin’ Bird” slowed down to a snail’s pace, played on bass rather than guitar, surrounded by long detuned blurts of saxophone and wreathed in smoke-clouds of reverb. Or maybe you can’t. Anyway, it’s an odd idea, mildly intriguing, but one that seems to have only a tenuous relation to the K-Holes’ debut album. There are some dirges here, but not much surf. And to be honest, there are probably too many dirges.
“Native Tongues” goes down all right, with its one note clanged over and over, its death rattle of tambourine, its head-banging, downbeat-pounding drum beat. The sound is scraped out of the bottom of a well -- a squelchy, filth-crusted well, at that. The vocals, especially, seem to be clumped and coated with mud, its thick disclarity sticking to the consonants, obscuring the vowels. There is, as Andrew Earles noted in his review of K-Holes 7” (“Swamp Fire” backed with “Werewolf with a Tan”), “an onslaught of distracting reverb.” And “Native Tongues” is easily the most palatable of the slower, heavier tracks, if only for its piercing, vibrating ululations. Later cuts – “Creatures of War,” Swamp Fires” and “The Gutter” – are cement-footed slogs by comparison.
What saves the K-Holes’ debut is the other half the of the album, the fast, fun and slightly ridiculous garage rockers like “Werewolf with a Tan,” “Speedy Greedy” and “Step ’N Etch.” Don’t look for deep thoughts from these songs. “Short Zippers” pummels its best line -- “How can he have sex with every girl?” -- into Cramps-ish parody, while the two girls in the band trade yelps and yips and the question “Have you ever seen a werewolf with a tan now?” in their best moment. “Step ’N Etch” has a rockabilly tinge to it. There’s a giant one-two punch in the rhythm, a slight dissolution around the edges as the saxophone meanders in the background.
K-Holes has given up on surf, but it shouldn’t be so quick to abandon the short, sharp silliness of garage punk. The group’s not that good at dirges. Why not concentrate on your strengths?