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Live Review: Kisses, The KNOWN At Osaka 2nd Line October 7, 2010

Of all the venues in Osaka Los Angeles duo Kisses could have wound up in, they landed in the one most in contrast with their sound. The pair (joined by a drummer live) of Jesse Kivel (of Princeton) and Zinzi Edmundson craft tropically-tinged pop that flirts with late-night disco, the sonic equivalent of making a break to Club Med for a few days. Osaka’s 2nd Line stands in stark contrast to the beach – the club name ends up being completely literal once you realize the small live house sits directly underneath the second rail line in Fukushima. This means every few minutes, the insides of 2nd Line rumble as a train passes over the tracks. This frequent trembling seemed poised to disrupt Kisses’ sun-soaked pop – it’s tough to dream of coastal escape when a train’s passing over your head. Yet they pulled off a solid show, pleasing the sparse Thursday-night crowd and overcoming the freights above with lovely pop and charm.

Kyoto’s The KNOWN opened the evening. The duo mixes together the worlds of post-Postal Service electro-pop with open-mic-night strumming with surprisingly captivating…at times…results. The first half of their set saw the guitar-wielding half of the band favor an acoustic, while his DJ-ish partner swathed his chords in a mixture of club-friendly drums, ambient wash and vocal samples (highlight: some bits of dialogue from Willy Wonka to open their set). At it’s absolute best, the guitar cut through all of the electronic goo waterfalling onto it, leading to driving ambient-pop. Just as often, though, The KNOWN’s mish-mash of noises just blended together into a static cloud of boring music. It didn’t help that one song opened with a sample of crickets chirping away. Matters improved greatly in the latter portion of their set, as the guitarist switched out his acoustic for an electric that instantly added a level of aggression (and, thus, interest) to the show. Their best moments…one great song bleeding into the next…were truly memorable but seemed a bit too inconsistent at times.

Whereas The KNOWN’s brand of soft-electro pop often neared introvert status, Kisses take on it made sure to be as outgoing as possible. Their live show has legitimate swagger, the ability to get even the suit-wearing businessmen who must have come straight from work to dance to the breezy keyboard notes of opening song “Kisses.” Kisses sound so great – both live and on their debut album The Heart Of The Nightlife – because of how simple they keep their seaside pop. Princeton comes off as the west coast Vampire Weekend, not a bad thing at all but sometimes getting bogged down in intricate arrangements and clever storytelling. With Kisses, though, the songs come off as relatively straightforward, catchy numbers that give Kivel a chance to focus on sounding great instead of having to tell great stories. It all shows on their best track “Bermuda,” wherein elegant keyboard twirls with extremely pretty vocals while still maintaining a good beat. It’s their most gorgeously constructed song and also the most danceable, a fact made clear by their relatively faithful rendition of it at 2nd Line.

Given the group’s relative youth – formed just this year with their debut album just coming out – their set zipped by Thursday night, but featured plenty of highlights. “Kisses” and “Lovers” both rested on insanely catchy choruses, while the more minimal “People Can Do The Most Amazing Things” got by on bits of island percussion and guitar worthy of soundtracking a sunset. Even Kisses’ subdued numbers still give a little kick – with titles like “Women Of The Club,” it seems like a little way of reminding listeners where these tracks are seemingly set. The band members themselves, meanwhile, couldn’t have come off as more happy to be there. Both Kivel and Edmundson thanks the crowd…in both English and Japanese…countless times. Near the end of the slinky “Midnight Lover” Kivel goofed up on his guitar – everyone laughed it off. He tried apologizing multiple times, but the audience responded “no problem” – in great English! – to show it wasn’t a big deal. And on they played like nothing happened.

As for the train…Kisses similarly laughed that one off as well. When it rumbled by between songs, they just smiled and sometimes pointed up. “The train is making it’s own song,” Kivel said. Maybe it wasn’t such an issue after all.