Michael Rank & Stag – Kin

January 01, 1970

(Louds Hymn)

 

www.michaelrankmusic.com

 

With more vital body fluids spilling from these grooves than
Shoot Out the Lights and Blood on the Tracks combined, the new
solo album from Snatches of Pink frontman Michael Rank makes for an exhausting
ride. Kin, a two-CD set, is a brutal account of a marriage that
crumbled and left permanent scars – part in-the-throes depiction, part
rearview-mirror dissection, with all the bile, bitterness, recrimination,
desperation, self-loathing, backpedaling and grasping at straws that a person
could possibly summon amid the emotional wreckage. The difference between Rank
and the rest of us, of course, is that in the aftermath he had the courage to
confront himself and write about it.

 

Snatches of Pink, of course, is the long-running – if at
times on-and-off and, for a spell, rechristened as Clarissa – Chapel Hill band
that Rank formed in the mid ‘80s, tracing a boozy, brawny Johnny
Thunders-meets-Replacements path into the early ‘90s. (Classic LP: 1988’s Send In the Clowns.) Following a hiatus
during which Rank released a folky solo album, Coral, and also published a book of poetry, Snatches resurfaced in
the new millennium with new members, going on to issue three albums during the
‘00s including 2005’s Stag – hence
the moniker of Rank’s latest combo. Kin,
in fact, features musical contributions from both early and latterday Snatches
players, including drummers Sara Romweber (currently of the Dex Romweber Duo)
and John Howie Jr., and guitarist Marc E. Smith; also on hand are members
of  Trailer Bride, Two Dollar Pistols,
Patty Hurst Shifter and Chatham County Line, with production from Southern
Culture On the Skids mainman Rick Miller and Jesse Huebner of the Small Ponds.
So that “kin” notation, beyond the immediate familial connotations (the album is
dedicated to Rank’s 5-year old son), also signifies how the record is a Tarheel
affair through and through.

 

Disc One commences with “Tenderhook,” a hookish slice of
folk-rock featuring fiddle, mandolin and elegantly wasted electric guitar
wherein Rank is found ruminating darkly, in his signature drawl, on how things
unfolded: “Baby’s on fire now/She’s got everything that that she wants/ Baby’s
grown tired now/ She done burned up all of the road.” The countryish, lap
steel-powered “On the Bleed” follows, wherein Rank, still dazed, begins to take
stock of the damage: “Seems to me, you were already gone/ ‘Ain’t nothing
personal, baby’/ That’s where you’re wrong.” In subsequent songs he charts a litany
of moods, one moment noting that “my heart’s seen better days,” the next
rearing back to declare, firmly, “I don’t think about you much anymore,” and
then the next crumbling as he confesses “I wish I could’ve kissed you for one
last time.” Such moodswings, paralleled by shifts in musical points of view
ranging from the aforementioned country and folk to bluesy-Stonesy twang and
piano/guitar balladry, serve to keep the listener pinned to the metaphorical
seat: it’s` closer to watching a tragedy unfold onscreen than listening to a
rock album.

 

The hushed title track rounds out the first CD, just Rank
accompanied by his acoustic, and if this were Kin‘s actual closing number, one might go away feeling that he had
reached a semblance of closure, particularly in the face of lines like “your
smell is gone from the pillowcase” and “wish I’d never seen your face.” But the
songwriter’s not done yet.

 

If Disc One is the death of a marriage and its subsequent
funeral, then Disc Two is the wake and the existential emptiness
that lingers. It’s also the more pointedly rocking of the pair (in places
resembling vintage Snatches), with careening guitars, woozy-boozy vocal harmonies
and elements of punk and garage finding their way into the mix on several tunes
– notably “Sea Measures,” which features a masterful axe solo in the outro, the
fuzz/distortion-laden “Manservant,” and thrashing final number “Here Comes the
Light” (more on that one in a sec). It’s not precisely a yin/yang scenario,
however, as the second CD also has its own moments of country and folk; the
song “Arrowheads,” with its Alejandro Escovedo-esque fiddle-and-mandolin sway,
is as radio-worthy as any Americana-tilting song you’ll hear all year. Yet by
this point in the evolution of Rank’s narrative, the lyrics have gotten more
pointed and less ambivalent, the shock displayed on the first disc now having given
way to recrimination-lined steeliness and resolve. Consider this series of
snapshots:

 

I didn’t lie, when I
said

‘I still love you’

I always did

I didn’t lie, when I
said

That I hate you

‘Cos God, I did

Please don’t go away
again

Please don’t walk away
with him

Don’t you know you’re
my only friend?
(from “Arrowheads”)

 

My friends say it gets
better

My friends say time does
heal

My friends say I was a
dreamer

To believe you were
sincere

Next time I’ll know
better

Next time I’ll do no
wrong

Next time she won’t be
a crazy fuck

With lies under her
tongue.
(“Tongue”)

 

So that’s how you see
me

So that’s now who I am

Those years that I
loved with you

They don’t mean a damn

The damage that gets
done ‘round you

That damage now is
mine

You and me keep going from
bad to worse

I look in your eyes
how a dream starts to turn

You’re a curse. (“The Eye Teeth”)

 

That word “curse” is spat out like a broken, bloody molar. The
pain here, clearly, isn’t an everyday case of an emotional drive-by; it runs
deep, cripplingly so, and it’s only at the very end that Rank seems to have
clawed his way out of the abyss. “Here Comes the Light” is raging and blazing,
anthemic yet chaotic, with Rank seething, snarling, screaming over dissonant,
in-the-red guitars. It’s not a pretty sight. But it’s a devastatingly effective
way to close out the record.

 

Notice how in the first sentence of this review I wrote
“exhausting” but didn’t use the term “wearisome”: the soul-baring and
spleen-venting that’s going on here is ultimately cathartic, particularly if
you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a relationship going south. As classic
breakup albums go, Kin is more than
just effective – it’s utterly inspiring.

 

DOWNLOAD:  “Arrowheads,” “The Goat,” “Pilgrims” FRED
MILLS

 

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