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Music Review: Kaura – That Which Defines Us

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Kaura’s That Which Defines Us has been out and about for a while, I think. The album was released, at least in some formats, last year. On Tuesday, as in yesterday, the band touted the release of it as a “new album.” Granted the new release of That Which Defines Us includes a DVD that includes an hour-long “Making of the Album” feature and a pair of music videos.

Either way, That Which Defines Us is here and ready to build on what the California band started with the release of an EP a while ago.

Kaura is Malcolm Guess (vocals, guitar, production), Benjamin Jones (drums, hammered dulcimer), Josh Albright (bass), and Ben Rojas (guitar). Despite very little material out in the open, the rockers have been invited to open for the likes of Godsmack and Rob Zombie.

Trips through India, Cambodia, Bali, Nepal, and Laos produced a love for other forms of music and Kaura draws on that somewhat, peppering That Which Defines Us with nibbles of tabla and bells. While the guys deserve credit for trying to present new elements, there’s very little ingenuity in how the instruments are used and the subsequent pop-prog isn’t gripping.

Musically, Kaura is akin to a cowed Tool or a subdued A Perfect Circle. Sylvia Massy, the producer of Undertow, is said to have helped the recording of That Which Defines Us in some way. Ken Andrews also had a hand in it.

The comparisons are earned from the outset, as a passive Guess sings away on “Sera Phi.” The track has the make-up of something from Tool but none of the thrust, almost coming off like a cover band trying to pep up a hotel bar. The bass lunges lack real might and the guitar crunch gets lost in the whirling effects.

The paint-by-numbers approach continues on tracks like “Ephemeral Fall,” only this time it’s APC that finds itself a target. Guess once again lacks vocal authority, decomposing into a snivel at times despite the music’s attempts to force him forward with some verve.

The docility wouldn’t be such a problem if it didn’t feel like Kaura was attempting some really commanding stuff. Because the band doesn’t go for the jugular, however, the record feels like a lame endeavour rather than a distinct vision. The use of a smattering of unusual instruments is all well and good, but That Which Defines Us wastes the occasions relentlessly.

“Silence Speaks Louder” sounds it would belong on a sterilized version of Undertow and “Tether’s End” is a tortuous yawn on which Guess can’t muster any dynamism.

While I wouldn’t suggest Kaura to be a complete loss as a band, there’s not much here by way of uniqueness to hold on to. Sometimes a debut album doesn’t need to break the mould to be good, but That Which Defines Us struggles with an absolute lack of identity and style to call its own.

That Which Defines Us is available for purchase here along with some snazzy “hot shorts.”

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