In the run up to Strange Entertainment, there was one feature of the new record that Kagoule’s vocalist and guitarist, Cai Burns, highlighted on more than one occasion. Namely, its move away from the early ‘90s influences so prevalent on their debut, Urth.
Despite it being an enthralling and powerful release, it’s unsurprising that Burns was keen to define Kagoule’s sound beyond the Fugazi comparisons (as well as the occasional Placebo reference) that dominated Urth’s reviews. Their existence as a three-piece only fueled their affiliation with early ‘90s grunge and punk, something that threatened to dilute the excellence of early tracks such as “Made of Concrete” and “Glue”.
Getting MK Hookworms and Tarek Musa behind the decks were good early signs, suggesting a slight reworking of the band’s sound. The first single from the record, “Egg Hunt”, didn’t show too much in the sense of change, though there were some notable updates. Burns’ guitar work was more eccentric, while Lucy Hatter (bass/vocals) and Lawrence English (drums) provided a less imposing backdrop. Instances such as the opening to “Bad Saliva” also showcase influences from Burns’ professed love for playing folk music, proof Kagoule are no one trick pony.
Such additions don’t change the fact however that Strange Entertainment continues to borrow, if less heavily, from the same pool of bands as Urth. With tracks like “It’s Not My Day” being written way back in 2016 and Burns recently telling Clash about the influence of the Pixies on the album’s guitar sound, this lack of separation shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Magnified” is a prime example of the more oddball form of grunge the likes of the Pixies and Melvins made their own. “Balance” meanwhile employs the barbed guitar tones ever-present in the aforementioned Fugazi, as well as post-rock heroes Slint.
The reason that Strange Entertainment is such an improvement on Urth, then, isn’t because of any distancing from those influences. Instead, it’s down to something that somewhat perversely draws them closer to that early ‘90s sound; the strength of the melodies hidden behind the noise.
“Too New Too Soon”, arguably the band’s best track to date, is a stunning example that, underneath it all, is a killer melancholy pop tune dressed in jagged guitars and distortion. “Egg Hunt” similarly, despite its oddly intriguing video and hyper guitar work, boasts a chorus that embeds itself further into your consciousness with every listen, highlighting the strength of the writing at its core.
It’s an injustice to say that Strange Entertainment is in any way a rendition of Urth. Other than becoming more complex and certainly more mature in their performances, the changes by Kagoule however are fairly minimal. They’ve just gotten a hell of a lot better at what they were already doing.