There are two versions of each of the tracks on this new Kitchen’s Floor 7 inch. The versions included on the vinyl were recorded after a friend’s death, while the ones excluded (though available as a download if you order it) were recorded before. As Matt Kennedy told us in a recent interview, the newer versions were recorded as a tribute, and the difference between the two are like night and day. Originally, ‘Bitter Defeat’ was a sad, but unusually colourful (by Kitchen’s Floor standards) pop song. Now it’s a beautiful monochrome dirge. In the former, Kennedy’s vocals lifted from their usual low monotone into a higher, more melodic wail. On the latter, they’re comparatively flat and resigned.
In light of that interview, it’s difficult to divorce this new release from its context, and the difference between these versions of both tracks makes that connection all the more stark. But as an artefact in Kitchen’s Floor’s small but increasingly strong catalogue, Bitter Defeat is all the more interesting for what it says about Kennedy’s songwriting. Previously, and especially on his debut Loneliness is a Dirty Mattress, Kennedy seemed eager to put a song to bed in the most efficient way possible. Three minutes was an epic. Verses and choruses bled into each other amid heavily distorted guitar and purely serviceable percussion. Here, Kennedy lets the ensemble run its course without the aid of vocals for long stretches at a time. The song slowly burns, and getting the words out feels like a challenge, for Kennedy, that needs to be risen to.
The other key difference here is instrumentation: Kennedy plays a nylon acoustic, while Andrew McLellan (Cured Pink) traces the melody with an organ that sounds serrated and on the verge of doom. What emerges is a kind of inverse to what we’ve heard before from Kitchen’s Floor: while they’ve always vendored desperate music, previously that tension was offset by the scrappy energy of a rock band. That energy compromised the soul of the songs, somehow, or at least beat it into less overt shapes. But now, it feels like that ever-present darkness has overcome those elements, resulting in the most affecting – and sometimes exhausting – music this songwriter has yet released.
Sometimes, and especially on this record, it feels like Kitchen’s Floor is the perfect mirror of our times. There’s a resignation to a certain kind of failure. It’s incredibly passive: all of the assertive elements of punk and rock ‘n roll are syphoned entirely. Kitchen’s Floor sounds like the result of an age group chronically over-diagnosed and frankly, scared, at the new challenges involved in scraping together a living passed down to us by previous generations. It’s the cumulative cost of living and the erosion of options.
And despite the fact that this is beautiful, honest, heart-rending pop music, Kitchen’s Floor sounds squeezed. It’s girded by fuzz and it clips at the edges because there’s always the sense that these songs are being buried by greater forces. And it’s because of this that Kitchen’s Floor ties a knot in my gut almost every time I listen. Because it exists despite all of this, and it’s honest, and it doesn’t back down, and it (sounds like it) feels the same way as me, sometimes. It sounds like its own awkward victory, because it hasn’t capitulated, because these songs are here, and they’re lovely, and Kennedy isn’t rotting in a call centre selling dial-up internet to off-the-radar folk in far-North Queensland. In this way, Kitchen’s Floor is the most spirited and important sadness there is, and these are his best songs yet.
Label: Negative Guest List Records
Release date: September 2012