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Album Review: Kudu Stooge, 'Looming Essence'

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Kudu Stooge, Looming Essence
  • Kudu Stooge, Looming Essence

(Self-released, digital)

Kudu Stooge are a five-piece rock band forged in the fires of the University of Vermont scene. While such origins tend to imply a certain sound, this crew is not a jam band. Its music does, however, evoke a typical night at Nectar's. To be clear: That's a compliment, not a complaint. This is bluesy rock, driven by a rhythm section with funk tendencies, fleshed out by horns and keys. Everyone in Kudu Stooge has chops, and they veer into pop as easily as prog.

That eclectic approach could just wash out into an incoherent mess, but the band's second LP, Looming Essence, is a solid piece of work. Ethan Silver-Wheeler and Andrew Waterhouse are the glue holding it all together. The two vocalist/guitar aces share raw, earthy tones, and their heartfelt deliveries overcome occasional lapses in pitch. You believe them when they sing, and that counts for more or less everything.

The band's songwriting can be whimsically stoned, such as in the theatrics of opening cut "Starship Superlazer," a mini sci-fi rock opera. The group has also cut two takes on the same song: "403" and "Dinosaur Song" carve different, seemingly connected lyrical paths through almost identical, slinky guitar-pop arrangements.

In addition to its playful qualities, Looming Essence can be quite haunting. Kudu Stooge are a young band that's maturing fast. Some of their more up-tempo tracks will put your tolerance for wah pedals to the test, sure. But when the band stretches out, it's pretty intoxicating.

On tracks such as "The Vision" or "Anglerfish," Kudu Stooge carve out huge soundscapes that make the most of their instruments. Vince Urbanowski's work on saxophone and keys is exquisite — he's a constant standout in a talented lineup. Yet while his solo movements are inventively face melting, his deft accompaniment work is even more impressive.

The rhythm section of Zach Lewellyn on bass and Graham Peterson on drums is an implacable threat. The two really show off on the back-to-back funk workouts "Devilmite Beam" and "Eus the Earthly." But like Urbanowski's work, much of the duo's best work on this LP is almost invisible. The range and ambition of the album is demanding, but they make it look easy.

The missing ingredient that would make all this really pop, though, is studio wizardry. Looming Essence, like the band's 2017 debut Origin Thang, is a self-produced affair. To Kudu Stooge's credit, this latest LP is an impressive improvement. Yet it still falls short of the space and polish that an experienced producer could provide.

It remains to be seen whether Kudu Stooge will survive when everyone graduates from college, but the band could have a bright future. Should Kudo Stooge continue, it will be interesting to see whether they shed their fun, funky dorm-rock material in favor of their jazzier, darker side. Either way, they're one of the most interesting UVM bands in recent years, and Looming Essence makes it clear their live sets must be an absolute blast. Catch them while you can.

Looming Essence is available at kudustooge.bandcamp.com. Kudu Stooge play on Friday, October 5, at ArtsRiot in Burlington.

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