Kritters is the musical project of South Bronx life partners Kirini O.K. and Rob Steadman. The songs and visual representation of Kritters grew out of Kirini O.K.’s poetry and visual art, while Steadman’s career as a rock drummer informs his drum parts and production. Though both artists are classically trained musicians, Kirini O.K.’s first love was punk, and she brings a DIY aesthetic to the Kritters project, playing both violin and a ’90s Casio keyboard. “We aim to deliver tightly crafted, insistently rhythmic, genre-agnostic music that is mordantly funny, exuberantly angry and unrestrained by the very loss, betrayal and disappointment it lays bare.”
Kritters recorded Go To School in their South Bronx home studio: a renovated and restored 1890’s row house living room. The album was built from voice memos by Kirini O.K. as she worked on the renovation, and the subsequent Covid lockdown in NYC gave them time to flesh the songs out. Kritters recorded to Logic using two Shure microphones and a Tuscan US 16x08 interface with Steadman playing an Ebay-purchased drum kit which the couple also “renovated” themselves.
My first impression of this album was that it sounded a bit like Laurie Anderson, often paired with a Kate Bush sensibility. But what jumps out immediately is that Kirini O.K.’s lyrics are brutally matter-of-fact with lots of deadpan F-bombs, sung over spacey music that wouldn’t normally support such honesty. Kritters see this collection thematically as ”…about growing up and realizing that you have neither achieved the life nor inherited the world you were promised when you were young — and no, you don’t get a do-over.”
“Conquer” opens the album with a lovely cloud of vocals, beats and synth patches. You begin floating away into this mysterious new world, but are brought up short by the lyrics: “Did you think that time would dare intrude / grown, outgrew / and it unstuck the glue of us / I wanna say fuck you / I really do.”The vocals are quite pretty and most probably tweaked with auto tune, but it’s not totally obvious, which I prefer.
“Not Blind” has more of a minimalist Laurie Anderson vibe with the narrator seemingly chiding their partner during a fight. “You’re the harmed one / I’m the harmer / yes you’re always right / hush now you’re always right.” Though Kirini O.K.’s vocals sounded a bit artificial through earbuds, I noticed that they play much better through quality headphones and have really grown on me with repeated listenings. The harmonies here reminded me of Fripp era-Roches. The drum sound is very interesting; if this is the real kit, it’s as if all the jagged edges have been sanded off and all that remains is pure beat.
“Strangers” feels like jazz crossover from Venus. After an a cappella opening, the spacey vocals present some hardcore earthbound sentiments: “What do they know / those fucking dimwits / what do they know / they don’t know anything / I hate you / I hate you.” What’s interesting is that with Kirini O.K.’s punk background, these lyrics would be perfect for a thrash-hardcore tune but are here rendered ethereal and lovely, creating an exquisite tension. “Taught To Be” continues this template with somewhat busier drums. “Easier” goes down easy like 80s synth pop with some of the most traditional sounding melodies and those eerie but beautiful vocals.
In “Eyes Open” Kirini O.K. allows her vocals to be more natural while surrounding herself with Magical Mystery Tour-like psychedelia. Lyrically it’s another tome of disappointment: “This room is all that you’ll ever know / cause you’ll never go / so you’ll never know / and failings all that you’ll ever know.” The percussion clatters along with a mechanical sheen.
“Found Out” has an actual spoken count down, Westminster Abbey bells and a Kate Bush-like arrangement with very cool violins against a paramilitary beat; a shorter but jam-packed construction. “Afraid” is a meditation on things pretty much all of us fear (aging, changes, death) with a Japanese flavor. “Never Be” starts with an E.L.P. style fanfare and seems to continue the theme of the previous track, with Kirini O.K.’s melancholic reflections given a gorgeous synth pop treatment.
“How’s The View” concludes the album with another majestic Laurie Anderson-like vocal construction and a glorious choir of voices to take us home, though without any punches pulled: “How’d you do, you blue eyed rich boy / how’s the view, you filthy rich boy / what did you do, you blue eyed rich boy / how’d you do, you stupid rich boy.”
At first blush Kritters do sound familiar, but it didn’t take long to appreciate the unique sonic signature this creative couple have made with these songs. Certainly unusual but often compelling music.
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