Kate Stables is usually the only person in This Is the Kit’s press photos, yet her newest album, Moonshine Freeze, is a pretty communal affair.
Stables has always had a band backing her up—three wonderful LPs precede this latest effort—but the ensemble cast of collaborators she’s gathered for her newest album allows her to employ new arrangements and access deeper emotions. With incredibly reputable figures such as legendary producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Perfume Genius) and The National’s Aaron Dessner (who produced TITK’s previous album, Bashed Out) offering their support, Moonshine Freeze is the peak of an uphill path Stables has traced since her earliest recordings at the turn of the decade.
Many of the listeners who will ultimately go on to stream or purchase this record might not have heard of This Is the Kit prior to early May, when Rough Trade announced it signed the band and shared the album’s title track, which boasts instrumental contributions from Dessner. “Moonshine Freeze” alone seemed to nudge the spotlight closer to this project. With that faint yet pulsing groove and Stables’ uniquely affecting voice and cryptic lyrics, how could it not? It’s perhaps the album’s most immediate song, with Dessner’s contributions simultaneously taking a back seat and opening up This Is the Kit’s world. Neither overwhelming nor inessential, his work resembles much of the guest work on the album; Stables is masterful at pulling the very best from her collaborators without ever letting them outshine her own flair.
Take John Parish’s production. Across his revered, decades-long resume, he keeps an artist’s identity intact while slightly warping it. He not only offers his own instrumental skills, but he also acutely senses how to navigate an artist towards styles and feelings not previously accessed. He certainly achieves this on Moonshine Freeze: playing on six of its 11 tracks and producing its entirety, he expands Stables’ already impressive skillset without fundamentally altering her overall vision. It’s subtly apparent that someone’s opened a new door for her, and it’s Parish’s hand on the knob.
This is her show, though, primarily due to her uniquely bone-chilling voice. Her vocals—a distinct vibrato that’s at once forceful and contained—truly carry the frequently unsettling lyricism of her songs. She is the ghost haunting the ominous tale of “Hotter Colder,” and her softly spine-rattling coo on “Empty No Teeth” enlivens the song’s often gory imagery. So too does her singing on “Two Pence Piece” ensure its soft violence punches into the ears, and most boldly, on “Riddled With Ticks,” the way she hovers repeatedly over the phrase “will fight you” before it becomes “will lose” is jarring.
Stables’ impressive singing and highly mulled-over songwriting ensure that her creativity remains front-and-center, no matter who’s in the room with her. That said, her work is so intricate that some listeners might not find Moonshine Freeze under their skin all that quickly. There’s something to be gleaned from taking its title a bit literally, then: if you don’t immediately find a light in the relative dusk of Stables’ best album to date, consuming her songs in a near-frozen state of relaxation, perhaps even contemplation, might just do the trick. The rewards to be reaped are immense.