kellen’s Debut EP ‘lowercase god’ Manifests a Composed Complexity

Photo by: Eric Morales

Photo by: Eric Morales

The phenomenon of bands striving for an overly complex sound is as ambitious as it is oversaturated. These days musicians seem to pull polyrhythmic tapping and time signature changes out of their front pockets like spare change. While tapping riffs are usually fun to play and look impressive at times, they may lack originality. Sometimes they even feel unnecessary or distracting. Bands start to lose the attention of their audience when they continuously scream “look what I can do!” through their playing.

The lowercase god EP by kellen is a refreshing opposition to all of this.

It’s not often that a band can ignite the energies of both math-rock and prog-rock and while deliberately smashing those influences into something charming. But kellen does so seamlessly. They bring a great deal of genre-bending to the table and at times step into dreampop, borderline shoegaze territory.

Austin, Texas trio, kellen, is made up of Claire Puckett on guitar/vocals, Nay Wilkins on drums, and Dwight Smith on bass. Wilkins is perhaps more recognized for his role as guitarist and singer of the band Hikes; known for his charismatic performances and flexible vocal range. As a drummer, Wilkins retains many of these vigorous tendencies.

Puckett also played guitar in Hikes when they formed but left the band for several years. She performed in the symphonic rock band Mother Falcon, which takes an orchestral approach to indie-rock and has upwards of twenty rotating members. She has rejoined Hikes after the release of their 2017 Lilt EP and toured with the band since.

The fact that two thirds of kellen play in Hikes is highly reflective in their debut release. Puckett and Wilkins have an atmospheric connection that shifts between her ethereal vocal lines and sparkly guitar noodling, and his pounding, yet incredibly dynamic drumming.

Any ounce of remaining space is cultivated by Dwight Smith on bass. He functions as both the foundation and mortar of kellen; Puckett and Wilkins are its interlocking bricks. Smith keeps the band’s structure together by perfectly playing within the realm of a traditional bassist. Occasionally he rips lead bass lines that will surprise listeners, but never does he let anything crumble.

The opener on lowercase god is a track titled “fishbowl.” Ironically, it showcases a tremendous amount of depth. The structure of the tune paints the picture of a diverse landscape, taking jarring yet unerring turns. Puckett’s voice floats above the mix as the instruments whirl around and practically shift genres with each passing phrase.

Mismatched patterns in “fishbowl” fabricate the unique template of a kellen song. They simply don’t follow a template in the traditional sense, although the band does manifest overarching labyrinthine themes. Once this is understood, the rest of the elaborate lowercase god becomes accessible to the ears.

There’s a similar push and pull of warmth and gelid in the second and third tracks: “filigree” and “bloomer.” Then, continuing on a revolving path you arrive to the ballad of the release: “nowhere.” If purgatory is a beautiful place “nowhere” just might be the soundtrack. While the song clocks in at six minutes, it’s easy to get lost in it’s trance and put “nowhere” on repeat.

Lastly, the final song of lowercase god retains a complex and distinctive timbre. A solemn tapping riff kickstarts “this time” and eccentric drum and bass parts follow. After an abrupt pause the vocals enter. Once everything is unveiled it’s obvious how each individual part balances out the whole. We have arrived.
Overall, a mass of energy and emotion power lowercase god. The trio brings together a sophisticated mosaic. Be on the lookout for another kellen release. If they can engulf a listener this much with five songs, a full-length will no doubt be even more captivating.

-Joel Parmer

Delaney Motter