by Evan Jarvicks
David Goad is a man of vision. As the creative root to his band, Kali Ra, he invokes a keen taste for humid sounds and overcast moods. In live performances, he steps up to the role of flamboyant frontman, not settling for less than the high standards of his glam-goth idols. Kali Ra’s second full-length album, Cocoon, is also a work of vision, and even if it doesn’t quite meet its full potential, its majestic presentation doesn’t disappoint.
Kali Ra's sound is deep and brooding, but it sidesteps both anger and depression. With exception to the languid drone of "Berlin," there is a key energy that drives Cocoon to seek inspiration in the darkness it pervades. Floor drum hits and thick guitar walls are engineered to resonate not with brute power, but with inner strength. At the core of every song is Goad's broad, clear low register, presenting the moody contemplations of the album.
In regard to its narrative, Cocoon as a whole is full of depth but also a bit uneven. It's front-loaded with disarming emotion, and as it enters its third act, it becomes more distant and industrial. It's an interesting progression, but for attentive listeners on board with songs like "Break," which builds a soul-searching melody into a beautiful, heartfelt chorus about pain and healing, the album closer -- an apathetic tale of seclusion and murderous violence -- may prove off-putting.
That isn't to say that that last track, "Death Rattle," isn't a spectacular listen. It's a six-minute epic that, by the end, accelerates into a guitar-fueled tornado that ascends into a stormy sky of high-wire strings. It leaves behind it a slight ambience that poignantly rounds out the experience.
There are plenty of other highlights, as well. The pop-structured title track could have been an alternative hit of yesteryear with a little trimming. "Night Road," on the other hand, eschews the rock band format for a stripped down rumble of clanging drums and bare vocals. Kali Ra also loves a good mid-song twist, be it the doowop piano shift in “Shine” or the energetic rock pick-up in “Crystal Night” following a slower, almost whispered first round of verse and chorus.
There is so much going for Cocoon that it's a shame it doesn't reach even higher heights. In particular, the strings, which are meant to add gravity to the album, are synthesized. They do breathe a cinematic edge to the record, but a real string section would have done wonders. There are also moments when Goad's inconsistent baritone falls just short of the fullness he's aiming to embody, though he gives it his all.
This is merely a case of the devil lurking in the details, though, and it hardly diminishes the impact Cocoon packs. Kali Ra is a big-minded project, and taken as such, it gets so many things right that many other bands miss. It knows not to value style over substance, yet recognizes that style is the essence of music. It explores the edges of its sound without losing its way home. Best of all, it understands that darkness doesn't equate to negativity.
In popular culture, moths tend to live in the shadow of butterflies, even though the difference is more or less a matter of color palettes. With Cocoon, Kali Ra pose an insightful question: Must their dark shades be any less inspiring?