A thriving global D.I.Y. culture is arguably amongst the best things the digital age has brought us. No longer bound by the confines of style, format, content, or any commercial obligations, thousands of new musical projects develop and blossom every year. And while the tides of the world wide web don’t always bring exciting and original music to eager new ears, the realization of endless possibilities keeps the search for the new music as thrilling as ever.
It is hard not to feel a tiny bit charmed while holding an album by a project mischievously called Kitty Empire. This record, so unambiguously titled Superliminal Audio Wreck, is a celebration of the earnest madness that D.I.Y. records have become known for: in this case, handmade gatefold packaging with a front cover decorated with scruffy collages and comprised of characters from internet memes; various video and photographic sources in crude, grainy resolution; inserts filled with partly handwritten and photocopied song titles and pencil drawings.
While having its visuals spawned by the internet and media, finding any information about this project has turned out to be an unexpectedly difficult task. What little we know is this: Kitty Empire has been active for around five years, partially through its earlier incarnation, Foundation for Evolution. The project is based in Los Angeles and consists of Kris Kimberlin—its sole member and producer, who also runs his own Kinda Sorta Music imprint.
A handmade note enclosed in the packaging introduces its content as ‘fifteen songs of crust punk-influenced electronic hardcore from the not-too-distant future made with gear from the 1980s’. This seemingly bizarre (if not ludicrous) description starts making perfect sense after just a few seconds into the album. Harsh electronics, 8-bit drums, and distorted processed vocals combine into outbursts of intensity (songs) that last anywhere from twenty to thirty seconds with little to no structure to speak of. Kitty Empire really has no intention of serving up its material in any digestible form for its audience. This is hardcore punk played with all of the genre’s initial aggression and uncompromising directness, yet its creaky frame gets twisted and manipulated here into something much less familiar. Sounding like a ‘best of’ album by Youth of Today, Minor Threat, and Doom (UK) turned into a score for some absurd Nintendo game, Kitty Empire’s compositions successfully push the limits of the primitive approach to the genre. Computerized D-beats, walls of sound-riffing derived from noise samples, and digitally processed screamed vocals are all core ingredients that recklessly try to reboot a several-decades-old and well-tested formula.
Kimberlin compares his project’s musical output to that of bands like Rancid Hell Spawn, Big Black, Devo, and the Locust, which helps his listeners pinpoint Kitty Empire’s musical location, but still doesn’t quite tell the whole story. This project proudly wears its punk influences on its sleeve, as can be seen through the inclusion of covers for Avengers, Dropdead, and Foil (in all their barely recognisable glory).
There are no frills, mood changes, highly skilled musicianship, or expensive production here; there’s not even anything remotely reminiscent of conventional song structures. There are only fifteen short, noisy manifestos delivered one after another in the most direct manner possible. The crude and monotonous nature of this material might be a hard pill to swallow even for a seasoned listener; however, it can be argued that a record containing the words ‘Audio Wreck’ in its title aims to achieve that exact effect. Despite officially being a fifteen-song EP, Superliminal Audio Wreck rounds off its conclusion with another five tracks of so-called ‘filler’. Those are experimental numbers ranging from pure silence to remixes and collections of samples to well-developed compositions that are perfectly able to stand on their own.
Referring to itself as ‘…a project that overtly promotes equality, unity, and peace by means of superliminal messages (yelling)’, Kitty Empire hints at the intention behind the music and, especially, the form it is presented in. Directness and a distinct lack of compromise in expression are, perhaps, the most important points that the record makes. Leaving no room for misinterpretation, the lyrics don’t attempt to conceal a strong sociopolitical message. The track ‘Food Not Bombs’ can be an example of that:
‘Collecting surplus food that would have gone to waste
Selfless angels serve meatless food
Shining a light on poverty in a prodigal culture
A true example of good’
Tracks titles like ‘Capitalism Is Outdated’, ‘Overpopulation’, and ‘Animal Auschwitz’ point towards pacifism, environmentalism, and anti-capitalism. These are clearly prominent themes that are otherwise found in anarcho-punk—a movement that has undeniably left its mark on the project both ideologically and musically. A notable frustration within the album’s lyrics and the boldness of their delivery considerably enhances the way the sonic and visual content is perceived. The message behind the music plays a significant role in understanding the way other aspects of this record work together; without it, the use of the word ‘superliminal’ in its title might become redundant. That considered, not having complete lyrics included in the physical copy or otherwise made available online definitely seems like an unfortunate decision from the label’s side.
Superliminal Audio Wreck is a little oddity, and there is no doubt about that. A record so hopelessly direct can be difficult to wrap one’s mind around. A well-orchestrated provocation; a clever, cruel joke played on the listeners’ expectations and preconceptions about what is ‘good taste’; an anxious cry seeking to reach out and be heard—what is it really? Perhaps it’s just a piece of recorded media fallen prey to over-intellectualizing? Whatever the case, it’s difficult to not appreciate the honesty and enthusiasm that has so obviously been put into Superliminal Audio Wreck. Even though this album is destined to be confined to obscurity, it will remain a tiny beacon of what D.I.Y. aesthetics are celebrated for.
On the backside of the record’s cover, we find a shot from Yu Wang’s cult classic Master of the Flying Guillotine—an independent film that is one of the most unique of the martial arts genre. While one could wonder if the inclusion of this film still as a part of the album’s visuals was just a mere coincidence, there’s a little doubt that the movie and the record can be each other’s counterparts in pure absurdity, heaps of charm, and boldness of expression.
01) We Are the One (Avengers)
02) Potemkin State
04) Food Not Bombs
05) Belly Full of Lies (Dropdead)
06) Thinking Animal
07) Capitalism Is Outdated
08) Untitled (Foil)
09) Animal Auschwitz
10) Denial and Fear of Change
12) Hypocrisy (Foil)
14) Equality, Unity, Peace
15) The End of Pax Americana
Tracks 16-20 are Untitled.