In Praise of Bud Light Limes, Sweaty Allston Basements, and Kal Marks

Zoë Wyner (Halfsour) talks the new EP from the beloved Boston band.

I first became aware of Kal Marks on August 11, 2012. 2012 was the summer of the house show for me, when lower Allston was a mecca of punk houses and grumpy townies and not much else. It was a summer of drinking wine on street corners and beloved house venues being shut down, shows interrupted. I spent most evenings traveling back and forth from Somerville — I wouldn’t be moving back to Allston until that fall, but I may as well have lived there already. 

The night I became aware of Kal Marks ended with innumerable Bud Light Limes on a dock along the Charles River and what felt like hundreds of mosquito bites. It was the beloved Bozmo’s final Boston show before members of the band moved away (a common story these days, as well as then). Kal Marks played just before Bozmo, and I remember the heat of the basement, the energy from the stage. That era holds a special place in my heart, with that night and my introduction to Kal Marks playing a significant role. In this age of Allston as a neighborhood slowly turning into one giant condominium, it’s nice to know that there are others who have persevered, stuck around through it all. 

Admittedly, after that show in 2012 I lost track of Kal Marks for a handful of years. During that time there seemed to be so much happening in Boston, far more than I could keep track of, and I had taken a bit of a break from attending shows. Eventually, upon reemerging, I started to see them on bills with friends’ bands, and the band I am in ended up sharing a couple of bills with them too. Every time I saw them, it became clearer that, although they have never lacked confidence, they have increasingly displayed intent in their compositions. Let the Shit House Burn Down is no exception, with strong messages of dissatisfaction and failure focused throughout. 

The opening track on Let the Shit House Burn Down may be my favorite that the band has ever produced. “Nu Legs” comes in blistering, tosses you into an all encompassing heat. After you’ve entered this cave, dark, unforgiving, they break into a perfectly poppy chorus. “Nu Legs” does an incredible job of using this dynamic to effect — these moments of pop relatability, reminiscent of my favorite moments from Purling Hiss’ Water on Mars, and then shifting back, tossing you yet another dose of their tumultuous mess of metallic sound.

There are plenty of other highlights throughout the EP. “Head’s Been Ringing” deliberately does what so many bands seek to do — encapsulates nostalgia, distills that feeling into a song. “It’s So Hard to Know How to Say Goodbye” is a fully realized moment of glimmering sunshine as you fall towards the end of the EP, an instrumental interlude used to effect, a heavy dose of the ‘90s infused with the energy of Roy Montgomery’s Temple IV.

Throughout the EP, Kal Marks does a fantastic job of using space to effect. There are moments of sparseness, with Carl Shane playing single note leads, weaving them under the vocal melodies, in and around Mike Geacone’s propulsive bass lines. There are times where you will hear two simultaneous guitars, but often, it is clear that what you are listening to is just the three of them in a room. The power of a three-piece band who doesn’t try to sound like there are more of them than there really are is truly enormous. Kal Marks does a great job of layering on Let the Shit House Burn Down without it often sounding like anything but themselves performing live. The energy of a recording that emulates the live version of the band is so underutilized and underrated, and Kal Marks’ heavy compositions lend themselves well to this format. And, despite the fact that we are many years and innumerable deceased show houses away from that sweaty basement in Allston, I can still hear that introduction to the band, vocals running beneath the volume of everything happening around them, energized.

I can’t write about Kal Marks without also mentioning their role within the EIS community. They are definitive of what the label puts out, and are clearly a part of this fantastic community of bands who support one another and play off of each other’s sounds without anything feeling particularly derivative. In 2019, to find a band, a collection of bands, who are unapologetically themselves, is something worth noting. Kal Marks are just that — a raw representation of a band who seem to have no desire to be anything but who they are, and, despite their frustrations with humanity (which likely extend to the state of the city in which we live), keep pushing through. 

Zoë Wyner is a visual artist and musician living in Boston, MA. She is the bassist and front person of the post-grunge power pop band halfsour, and sometimes makes music as temporary eyesore as well