“Moonshine Freeze,” the fourth album from the British folk band This is the Kit, is one of those rare albums that defies categorization. Kate Stables, the band’s leader and sole songwriter, draws elements from nearly every genre, from ‘60s folk to ‘70s blues rock to ‘80s and ‘90s alternative.
The result of this kind of cut-and-paste songwriting, when applied song by song, typically produces an album that feels more like a disconnected series of covers. Such songwriting requires little creativity and a complete lack of direction, and its product is almost always less than the sum of its parts.
It takes brilliance, however, to fuse an array of genres into an album. Executed properly by Kate Stables, this songwriting style generates a beauty unlike that attainable by songwriters whose concern for the status quo exceeds their hunger for originality.
Dynamism is nothing new for This is the Kit. Aside from Stables, the group constantly rotates through different musicians, having no other permanent members. Still, never before has this group embraced so much at once.
The band’s previous three albums, while unique, are essentially folk albums. They all possess slight qualities that set them apart from the rest of the modern folk scene, but none of them would be shocking in a playlist with The Lumineers or Fleet Foxes.
“Moonshine Freeze,” however, is something entirely different. Not every song on the album is a radical break from the past, but the pivotal tracks are all completely different from anything the listener may have experienced before.
The first song lulls the listener into a sense of comfort and familiarity, delivering the type of slow, sleepy folk tune he is used to hearing from This is the Kit. With the arrival of the second track, however, those looking for more of the same will be disappointed to learn that Stables has no interest in rerecording her previous work.
This second song, “Hotter Colder,” is a startling juxtaposition of a ‘90s alternative music melody with a jazzy, ‘70s rock style drum beat that both demands the listener’s attention and leaves them hungering for more.
This quality makes it the ideal prelude to the album’s titular track. “Moonshine Freeze” is folk, alternative, synth-pop, blues rock and jazz all rolled up into one song. It incorporates synthesizers and horns to create a sound unlike anything This is the Kit – or anyone, for that matter – has produced before.
As the lead single, “Moonshine Freeze” serves as the beating heart for the work as a whole; it drives the album, providing plenty of energy for the ten other songs. One cannot help but feel that this song was written in advance, and the rest of the album was built around it.
While the album does contain some songs that are simple indie-folk tunes reminiscent of This is the Kit’s older work, the many songs that defy this simple pigeonholing stand out and give the album its lasting flavor.
“All Written Out in Numbers” combines what feels like a country, Johnny Cash-style melody with folk vocals and a complexity of arrangement and layering that is not characteristic of either genre. Similarly, “Empty No Teeth” juxtaposes folk style lyrics and vocals and a country style arrangement, which includes a fantastic banjo riff, with a driving rock and roll tempo and jazzy percussion.
This challenging but beautiful set of unique songs gives this album its ultimate character, and the work places itself firmly in the rare and great company of albums defined by their originality. While plenty of albums represent the perfection of their respective genres, few represent the introduction of a new one.
“Moonshine Freeze” demonstrates that Kate Stables concerns herself not with questions of what This is the Kit is but rather with the question of what she is able to do.