Sincerity is a trait I never tire of, and Los Angeles-based orchestral pop ensemble Kan Wakan exude it in abundance. Forming in 2012, the band is impressively far along for its youth. They’ve received excessive praise from LA’s KCRW, made it to SXSW, and played a sold-out show at the Mercury Lounge on Thursday night, just two days after the release of their debut record, Moving On. Not bad for a bunch of Industry two-year-olds.
The band is a producer duo composed of composer/producer/founder Crooked Waters and guitarist/co-producer Peter Potyondy. Potyondy (formerly of Dayplayer) is extremely well versed in guitar and production. They collaborate with many vocalists, such as during this spectacular performance with Kristianne Bautista.
Seeing a group so dedicated to expert musicianship, enrapturing ambience, and textural compositions perform in such an intimate space is always a privilege, and Mercury Lounge suited the band wonderfully. Whoever was mixing that night gets a tip of my hat. Every layer of sound was crisp and articulate, and I almost felt as if I was breathing to the score of a James Bond/Spaghetti Western hybrid. This is not the kind of music that floats around your ears…it penetrates your chest. I was pierced with impressions of Lee Hazelwood, Mazzy Star, Portishead, and particles of Funk, Soul, and Jazz. That’s a heady blend of influences for one band to summon.
The stage was as cluttered as the soundscape with keyboards, cords, synthesizers, a drum kit, and amplifiers. The only thing missing was a full orchestra, a supplement I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see at a Kan Wakan gig. Each member was monastically focused on their performance, which resulted in the precise weaving of a sumptuous field of noise. A saxophone was added to the outfit – something I haven’t encountered in any live video recording of the band -which supplied a shrill subversion of elevator music to the moody atmosphere.
At the visual center of the stage, Bautista proved her ability to captivate an audience. Her voice was impressive – a velvety alto slinking between PJ Harvey and Fiona Apple – and her look was nothing short of stunning. She stood on stage draped in a black jersey dress that just scraped a heavy pair of leather boots, her right eye covered by a slice of charcoal hair. It’s my firm belief that true beauty often exists in women that don’t behave solely to be considered beautiful. Bautista’s focus on her craft made her that much more lovely, not to mention a pleasure to listen to.
The band finished their set and immediately started loading out – you can’t imagine how much gear they had to haul. As I left I nodded to the drummer and saxophonist who were trying to wedge everything into the back of a van: “Good set!”
They froze and looked at me wide-eyed as if I’d just handed them a tin tray of BBQ ribs.
In a city rampant with egotistical and blasé musicians, it was nice to encounter a little West Coast courtesy.
Kan Wakan’s new album Moving On is out now via Verve Music Group.