Like the dirt-smudged, bratty neighbor kid who becomes a surprisingly cool and self-assured adult, Kent 3 transformed themselves in a mere two years from a mediocre garage band into a powerful, unique rock outfit with an indelible sound.
Before maturing, however, Kent 3 made the erratic Screaming Youth Fantastic. The album shows promise — “The Kids Want Action!” and “The Duke of Federal Way” hint at the gripping, distinctive sounds to come, and “Estrogen Cruiser” is a damn fine snot-rocker — but Mike Pitts’ weak, tuneless vocals and a few songs that are just filler mar what might have been a more intriguing debut. Many of the songs on the first three 7-inch EPs, including all of Chromies and two songs from the superior Coin of the Realm, appear on the debut LP.
The Bellingham, Wash., quartet disbanded and reformed as a trio, handing vocal duties to guitarist Viv Halogen and taking a great leap forward on the self-titled double 7-inch. The three short, tasty numbers on the second single deliver on the punk promise of Screaming Youth Fantastic, while “Basketball Medics” and “Satellite” introduce a new direction. Those two songs reappear on Stories of the New West, which features the raw, spare, dark rock sound of a cowboy surfer on ‘ludes. It’s an album Wire might have recorded instead of Pink Flag had they smoked pot and watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly before entering the studio. The gothic Western aura even makes a line like “He is a mod, and he likes mod songs” (“Mad About the Boy”) sound like a gloomy challenge to draw, pardner, as does the mesmerizing, funereal six-minute title track and the uptempo, desperate-sounding “11th St. Wipeout.” The only low point is a ho-hum instrumental, “Strangers (High Fiving in the Streets).”
Peasant Musik picks up where Stories left off, with a set of harder-driving songs exemplified by the pummeling guitar and beer hall chants of “D.J. Knew.” Although Tyler Long’s drumming is more muscular, Halogen’s sea chantey vocals are louder and more strident, and Adam Grendon’s bass throbs with more intensity, this record seldom reaches the highs of its predecessor. The songs are still good — especially “1 Peter 4:3” and “Winter,” which recapture the electricity of Stories — but this is nothing new for the Kent 3.
After replacing Grendon with Jason Freeman (formerly of the Vaccines), the Kent 3 recorded Spells, taking a few steps back to their roots and abandoning the surf guitar/spaghetti western feel of their prior two releases for all-out guitar stomp. The result is an often wild sounding rock ‘n’ roll record with more actual singing by Halogen (as opposed to his usual shout/chant style). “Ball of Fire,” “Cinema” and “Pines” recall the band’s twangier, doped-up-cowpoke efforts, but Spells draws the Kent 3 closer to Mudhoney than Morricone.