Ah, KIEFF. You may not have heard of them, but for this reviewer this young band from Oegstgeest holds many memories. KIEFF started as a bunch of bratsqueal teens who memorably skateboarded through an old Leiden squat complex. Then they morphed into an increasingly proficient hobby band who destroyed Wham!’s ‘Last Christmas’. Then there was the time they were due to play the legendary Paradiso venue for a “40 Years of Dutch Punk” night and rang me up in the middle of Amsterdam to ask if the venue was near the royal palace. This in the age of social media that their peers are supposed to be adepts in. In retrospect, this act of lazy entitlement (asking muggins here for directions), was the most punk thing that happened that night. Why these stories? Well it’s worth impressing that KIEFF are a bunch of lippy, lazy, uncoordinated, smarter-than-thou hedonists from the right side of the tracks. They can exasperate. No-one has really taken them seriously up to now, however charming they may be. And try as they might (which isn’t very hard) they will never be fully part of the “Dutch underground” fable. This may be in part why they’ve released this on the scene’s outlier label, Bottom Shelf Records (set up by the mighty Charlie and the Lesbians). And, regardless, KIEFF has made a debut record that is pretty damned good; especially as the music runs its course.
But, but, brace yourselves. To begin with you will not hear such a blatant take on The Homesick’s ‘Male Bonding’ as the album’s opener ‘Game Time’, at any point in recorded history. It would be easy to laugh, but for shameless acts of sabotage like this, I hold a grudging respect. KIEFF have done to The Dokkum Three what those mid 60s garage punks did: play ‘Louie Louie’ or ‘Satisfaction’ until their fingers bled and the original lost so much of its original DNA in the retelling that it became something else, even if the basics, the sonic skeleton if you will, remained the same. This nod to their mates continues in part through the second track, ‘Charm’. But I suggest you stick in there to the third track, the short, sharp blast of ‘Copyshop 2.1’, to hear what really interests me about this band. After a few plays it’s clear that KIEFF are one of the very few alternative acts in the Netherlands who want to openly, carelessly fuck about with pop melodies, in a way not heard in years.
On repeated listen we could say there is something wilful and deliberately obtuse about KIEFF and their strange, moreish songs. All those stops and starts – as in ‘The Endless Search For Perfection’ – hark back to those smarter noughties American bands such as Dirty Projectors or Shapes and Sizes, or Indian Jewelry for that matter. Older heads may say it’s all a bit like Camper Van Beethoven when they covered ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, or the poppy bits of Yerself Is Steam era Mercury Rev. All these acts were able to bend their playing skills to making music that expertly walked a line between entertaining and irritating. The interludes on this LP are total Bongwater, too.
KIEFF is a record of surprises: ‘Pink Paint’ is a great track that also seems to initially nod to The Homesick but slowly this influence melts away to reveal a rougher and much more homegrown approach, the keys adding a really effective counterpoint when employed. The following track, ‘Fresh Furniture’ runs with a few notions kicked up by ‘Pink Paint’ and makes something new again. These two tracks seem curiously joined at the hip, I don’t know why, but this is certainly the point where this record really starts to take off and get loose. ‘Lost And Found’ is another eyebrow raiser, the bricolage of noise in the verse settling down to a Pixies work out of sorts in the counter melody. It’s rabble rousing in its own peculiar way. The last three numbers, ‘Aftermath’, ‘Hank’ and the very aptly named ‘Social Skills’ form a weird sort of triptych of shattered guitar runs and tumbling rhythms. By this stage, especially with ‘Social Skills’, the listener may experience a definite feel of uplift.
This is also a lovely sounding record, as expected for one that has been recorded at Remko Schouten’s Studio IJland and mixed at Henk Koorn’s Sahara Studios. The guitars are heavy and crisp, the bass bounces and the drums are lovely and full. The package augurs well for their next record, if they pull their collective finger out. For now we can enjoy this, all 29 minutes of it.