Kinda Alright is an interesting case in the Philadelphia DIY scene. Ever since December 2015, guitarist/vocalist Nate Cabigting, drummer Colin Best, and bassist Owen Sugg have steadily churned out indie-emo releases which have never failed to display technical proficiency or a self-reflective whimsy throughout. Anyone who has heard a Kinda Alright release before is familiar with Nate’s challenging yet sugary riffs, melodic yelp-singing, and light-heartedly poetic lyrics. While these are the truly distinct features, Sugg and Best do their part to bolster this sound with their respective roles, keeping up with and giving much-needed weight to the winding guitar parts. It’s not an unheard of style in the area, but to their credit, Kinda Alright does it better than a lot of similar peddlers. One needs look no further than the names of their releases to know their influences: “This Town Needs Nugs” is a stoney play off the mathy, finger-tappin’ good indie band This Town Needs Guns, and “owen kinsella please don’t sue us” nods hard toward Chicago indie mastermind Mike Kinsella and his solo outfit, Owen. In the past, Kinda Alright’s releases, like 2016’s “Wane“, have displayed that the band can also build up around lyrical themes, and their second-ever release, a song titled “silly”, displayed a wonderful wonkiness in their production and lyrics that were truly poetic.
On “nice!”, a lot of this character is more or less excluded, and listeners instead receive a collection of instrumentals which, though still just as technical and light-hearted as ever, lack any real progression from material in the past, and in fact accomplish less experimentation in the process.
Harsh though this assertion may be, it is staked on the basis of what has been done by the band in the past, rather than on some hypothetical idea of what they could be doing. Now, I would be lying if I suggested this is not some of their best work performance-wise, but since they’ve toed that line from the get-go, the more interesting aspect of the band became seeing how they experimented with the application of this technicality. This time around, the approach is straightforward to a fault. I am not exaggerating when I say that the first song off their last EP, “pretty sweet!“, contains more dynamic diversity than the entirety of “nice!“. Unlike what they’ve put out in the past, the songs on this album meld together as the band does not stray from one aesthetic representation of themselves. I’m not even sure the tempo changes over the course of the release, save perhaps for the last song. It’s difficult to talk about “no chumps”, “suggdivision”, and “nunya!” individually because they display the same combination of muscular bounciness and anthemic pop-punk-y sensibility throughout. Even each song’s respective dynamic progressions all sound similar, and while moments like the piercing pinch harmonics and the play-out on “no chumps” and the slightly mathy part in “nunya!” (which also sounds vaguely like a slip-up) are interesting ear-candy, the occurrences of these parts in each piece ultimately feels a bit formulaic as the song structures are all basically the same. The funny thing about the twenty-five second “intro!!!” is that it summarizes everything you’re about to hear on the EP to a T. If you enjoyed that intro, you’re basically going to eat this up.
Furthermore, the exclusion of Nate’s vocals on this release — in the wake of multiple other releases that function perfectly well around them — raises a question mark. They are only included on the last track of “nice!“, the stand-out song “algerbong copweeddealer”. Other than being a cute homage to Philly’s favorite experimental indie kids Algernon Cadwallader, this song proves that the band could have easily included tasteful vocals, and also shows that there is no concept bent behind the rest of the album excluding it. This random inclusion of vocals feels even weirder due to how understated they are, and the lack of discernible production done to them further elevates the sense that everything here is basically cobbled together for the sake of itself. It seems like it’s essentially done this way “just ‘cuz”, which ends up turning the band’s carefree demeanor against themselves.
I leave this release with more questions than answers, not registering any reason why the band would downshift in this way. I hope in future releases that they can bring back what made kinda alright an exciting band to listen to: quirky vocals, crazy riffs, and fearless sonic exploration into what is possible with their clear talent.
- The band is playing in top form on this release, able to expertly navigate the twists and turns of their music with seemingly more ease than ever
- The production is tight, if spare, and the guitar tone is satisfying
- Lacks much of the diversity and exploration of past releases
- Contains only one song with their trademark vocals, for no apparent reason
- Songs basically the same structurally, all sound straightforward and similar