Earlier this year, Flagpole ran an article featuring a number of Athens-based punk bands giving their opinions on the state of the local scene. Ian Hemerlein, the leader of experimental garage-punk trio Kwazymoto, responded harshly, calling it “tired and played out, with imitations of bigger, better artists on full display and a serious lack of original, creative voices.” On its sophomore album, Limerence Land—one of the most ambitious and exciting punk albums of the year—Kwazymoto aims to put its money where its mouth is.
Kwazymoto comes from humble beginnings. Hemerlein was still a teenager when he decided to form a duo with his friend Kody Blackmon on drums in 2014. Ten months later, after a series of shows, they were approached by Alec Peyton, who offered to play bass, turning the duo into a trio. In fall of 2016, the band released a well-received debut, On Mount Rennie, and has been quietly working on Limerence Land ever since.
Limerence Land is a pseudo-concept album centered on what Hemerlein calls an exaggerated version of himself. “I wrote all the songs and had a basic concept for what this album would be over a year ago,” says Hemerlein. “There’s a sort of narrative running through the songs from a first-person point of view. Limerence Land is supposed to be an actual place the narrator goes to—a kind of surreal, drug-induced place.”
The five-song, 31-minute album is a far cry from Kwazymoto’s debut, which, though excellent in its own right, is a rough-around-the-edges collection of 13 tracks that vary wildly in style and length, recorded in one live session.
“Our first album had a lot of songs that had been around for a long time on EPs and demos that we re-recorded,” says Hemerlein. “It was really just a collection of songs we had written here and there, just barely enough to make an album. For our second album, the next logical step seemed [to be] to create something that was more directly collaborative and cohesive.”
According to Hemerlein, the album’s story and more consistent sound are a direct result of the band’s effort to step up its production quality and creative process. “Unlike our past stuff, we wanted to track everything out for this, instead of doing a live recording all at once,” he says. “There was a concerted effort to make a big jump in quality this time around, and we wanted to have a listening experience that fit that… We wanted to create something that people would want to sit down and listen to all at once, instead of individual singles.”
Limerence Land feels downright massive at times, with several slow-build ballads, like the nearly 10-minute centerpiece “Let Me In,” that shift and erupt into ferocious punk ragers. Though the plot and characters within the story are not always easy to follow—an intentional choice, says Hemerlein—the overall endeavor is an unexpected but rewarding transformation for the young band, a transformation that Hemerlein thinks will stick with the group as it approaches new projects.
Hemerlein may be optimistic about Kwazymoto’s future, but he still has mixed feelings on whether Athens, in its current state, is much of a place for bands taking creative risks.
“It sometimes feels that what’s cool to like in Athens at any given moment is not always the most interesting or exciting project,” he says. “I’m not trying to say that our band deserves to be the most popular, or that we look down on any other artist, but I would hope that on a local level, there would be more support for local artists who are really living the DIY lifestyle and putting a lot on the line for their art.”
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