Tripping lightly

Trip into Babylon
Review by Mark Lyndersay, originally published in the Sunday Guardian for August 19, 2012.
Trip into Babylon CD artwork courtesy Kin.

When I contacted Kin Sound System (hereafter, Kin) frontman Kiwan Landreth-Smith about giving the band’s new album a spin for this review, he asked the perfectly reasonable question, “Have you ever heard my band in any form?”

I hadn’t, and he deserves to know why. The answer is Syamasundara, a band I spent long hours interviewing and listening to 35 years ago while they practiced in ratty backrooms for a story in the Young Scene section of the Express.

They had an inventive sound, lots of rock guitar and pan on a rhythm bed that was heavily influenced by the world music of Osibisa and Cymande.
Their story and the tales of so many that followed broke my heart.

Fusion rock music in Trinidad and Tobago has a long history of accomplished musicanship; heartfelt songwriting and passionate performance that’s been roundly ignored for the most part.
The attentive listener can hear much of what Kin has been listening to throughout their lives on
Trip into Babylon, and it’s an accessible mix of guitar driven social commentary, with an earthy reggae bounce lifting the rhythm section and punk rock and speed metal flavouring the sharp guitar runs.

There's a lot of craft to the work, along with some hefty helpings of widely varying influences ranging from Sly and Robbie to Clash era Mick Jones. These are practiced musicians who work comfortably together, but it’s the excitement driving their performances on this disc that makes it an effortless listen.

These are young men having fun with music they’re in love with and channel that vigour into what they have to say.
Bad weather plays a big part in the album, underpinning the cynical pathos of Neverending AM Story and the high-stepping skank of Rain, possibly the best song about a downpour since Ataklan offered flooded roads as an all-purpose excuse.

Blood ah Run is a dubstep-drenched appeal to young people or rather, ‘rahtid youth’ to abandon guns, drugs and crime but it's so wrapped up in the tics and stylings of conscious reggae that it never quite makes it beyond a blizzard of platitudes and they aren’t improved by the singer’s thick faux Jamaican accent.

More intriguing is the standout number Halfway round the world, a tabanca-pending number that sports close harmonies echoing Beatles era pop and a brisk introduction that’s straight out of the Squeeze playbook.
A delicately plucked solo underpins the bridge of the song, an introspective contrast to the hard driving rhythm guitar that skims over the song’s reggae chorus.

Hear the boys sing on Halfway round the world...
“You don't have to go,
halfway around the world,
to find something beautiful,
it's okay, if you want to stay.”

Is this a plea to a loved one with wandering eyes or a local audience with fickle ears?
Lyrically, Trip into Babylon is a blend of romantic angst and bold young lion declarations and lamentations, most wrapped in the diffuse logic of youthful confusion about the way we live in Trinidad and Tobago today.

The band that recorded Trip into Babylon sounds as if they are being pulled between sincere optimism, a need to put a distinct stamp on the scattered landscape of local fusion rock and the search for unified voice capable of pulling a critical mass audience.

There’s some sharp, clever writing on the album, but the music often outstrips the lyrics and that’s a shame, because Kin seems to be bursting with things to say.
Babylon, as they boys hopefully sing on Return to Babylon, is unfortunately not on the run from good vibrations and they’ve got more work to do to get their message out.

Kin Sound System is...
Kiwan Landreth-Smith: Guitar, vocals
Adam ‘MAR’ Andrews: Guitar, vocals
Shyamal Chandradathsing: Bass
Keshav ‘Laza Beam’ Singh: Percussion, synthesizer, vocals
Keeron Archie: Drums
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