It is one of the odd ironies of minimalist indie-pop that bands who make the simplest, most unpretentious music often package it with maximum complication and obscurity, as if they still had something to hide (or dress up) after exposing themselves so haphazardly on tape. Formed at art school in New York but relocated in mid-career to Olympia, Washington, Kicking Giant — guitarist/singer Tae Won Yu and drummer/singer Rachel Carns — occupies a place of honor in the fanzine pop underground as talented and confirmed DIY diehards who issued the bulk of their work on homemade cassettes and compilations (much humbler than vinyl) before ever putting out a CD.
Folded inside a foot-square red-and-black credits sheet packed in a six-inch clear plastic sleeve with a tiny loose lyric booklet (too big for the CD shelf and too small to file safely among singles), the laser-ready Halo draws most of its material from the pair’s prior tapes. Like other underpopulated combos, Kicking Giant occasionally falls into the noisemaking trap, filling space with undirected energy, as on the chaotic “Go Girl (Riot)” and the muffled “Throw.” But more often than not, Halo is a charmer, lo-fi pop in which imaginative playing sketches out highly appealing songs that don’t sound wanting for additional density. Carns is an adequate beat-keeper who knows when to keep her hands to herself; Yu maneuvers his guitar between foursquare power (“Satellite”), punky abstraction (“Fuck the Rules”), feedback sculpture (“13.13.13.”), delicate pointillism (“If Not You”) and all of the above (“This Sex”). Their singing is strictly casual love-rock adorable, but missed notes don’t injure the spirited catchiness of kicky declarations d’amour like “Halo,” the nicely harmonized “Rocket” and “Wierd.”
Alien i.D., essentially Kicking Giant’s first real album, comes in a regular CD jewel box with an unreadable hash of typography. Relatively consistent med-fi sound and far more expansive musical ambitions allow the group to explore audio effects (the skeletal “A Blonde’s Blonde”), droney fingerpainting (“Inside Out Flower”), sharp-edged art-rock (“The Town Idiot,” narrated by guest vocalist Sue P. Fox) and flat-out roaring noise devastation (“Serrated Edge”). The straightforward pop songs are actually more of a problem: the pretty “Appetite” and the harsh “Drownings” are fine, but others leave the feeling that bits are missing. Kicking Giant is not going quietly into the real world.