Album of the Week: King Ropes – Gravity and Friction

Posted by Greg on Sep 17, 2019 in Music |

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Long live Bozeman, MT.

The burgeoning college town and hipster hot-spot is home to a university whose alumni include a city that claims home to Carroll O’Connor, J.K. Simmons and Jeff Ament. Perennial frat-boy John Mayer makes his home in the nearby locale of Paradise Valley, and an alt-country outfit named King Ropes that just might be one of the most refreshing bands we’ve heard this year. Their latest album, Gravity and Friction, is one we cannot stop playing on repeat. For obvious reasons it bears the title of our Album of the Week.

At its heart, King Ropes is roots-rock with equal hands in garage-psych and alt-country. There are guitar freak-outs aplenty and a copious amount of spoken word vocals. Off the top of our head this is music for fans of Silver Jews, Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven and maybe Akron/Family. Vocalist Dave Hollier is actually a compelling vocalist but more often than not his band’s funereal arrangements do most of the heavy lifting.

Album opener “Saint Peter” is weary and inward and distinctly country. Buttressed by a gorgeous cello, the song is haunting, entrancing and almost feels like a lost Wilco b-side. The near seven-minute “Butterfly Joint” has a pronounced thump and crunch that pounds and marches in a way that is both commanding and authoritative. At its heart it is a stoner song but the unpredictable and jarring guitar freak-out in the song’s latter stages is truly something to behold.

Hollier’s penchant for spoken word vocals makes its first appearance on the moody and mopey “California Stars,” an exercise in fluidity that is equal parts melodic, sedate and arguably the strongest song on the album to date. Whether this is the band’s lead single is anyone’s guess, but there is definitely a commerical panache at work here. Once again elevated by sonorous cello in the latter stages, this is the sound of a band firing on all cylinders.

The spoken-word vocals return on the near 8-minute “Brown” a song that begins quiet and limp and struts along with a country vibe that calls to mind Willie Nelson. At the 3:30 mark the song moves in a direction that pushes it upward and into something almost hymn-like. Ostensibly a yarn about religion and lost love “Brown” is proof that Hilliard and his cohorts are worth paying attention to.

Second single “Mouth Full of Bees” is warm and supple, a vernal exercise from start to finish. A lilting violin and some of Hillard’s best vocals to date help carry the album forward. The title track “Gravity and Friction” once again features spoken-word vocals and continues the stoner jam vibe from “Butterfly Joint” while also going for spaced-out garage punk that would make Todd Rundgren proud. What makes “Gravity and Friction” and the disc as a whole so compelling is that this is a band without pretense and attitude. This is just genuine, sincere roots-rock. An album that evokes the landscape the band is proud to call home.

Penultimate effort “Giacomo’s Assistant” is another dusty, Midwestern ballad that evokes the band’s Montana hometown. Hilliard channels Willie Nelson once again while referencing Dostoevsky and coasting on a bed of horns, strings and sweeping guitars. Gravity and Friction concludes with the seven minute ballad “These Days,” a hazy and languid effort that plods along like a logging truck trekking across I-94. The pace picks up shy of the four-minute mark as the song tries to breathe and squirm its way to the finish. A meandering paean to disillusionment it just might be the perfect example of what makes King Ropes so dang memorable.

Though this album hit shelves earlier this summer it has really spoken to us since Labor Day. Quite frankly we don’t know of many bands from Bozeman or Montana for that matter, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that King Ropes is probably the best band on the High Plains.

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