First Aid Kit (Ba Da Bing!)
BIG BLOOD, AN ALL-WRITING/ALL PLAYING TRIO from Portland – the more industrial-based city in Maine on the east coast, which is not to be confused with the hipster music enclave in Oregon – are no novices, even though one of the two lead singers is 13 years old. Yes, 13. The other one is old enough to be her mother, because she is her mother. Member number three is father to one and partner to the other, and also the producer.
So, yeah, it’s kind of unusual but not exactly uncommon – ask the Chambers family, or the Carters, or even the Tweedys – and it’s not even the most interesting thing about Big Blood.
Which isn’t to say that Quinnisa Kinsella- Mulkerin, the 13-year-old who has been in some way or other a member of this band pretty much her whole life and contributes about half the lyrics, isn’t fascinating as a talent. She is, and we will get to her again very soon. But what Kinsella- Mulkerin, Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella have offered until now is a fascinating exploration of esoteric art colliding with base material rock, elements of country and strong doses of psychedelia, DIY production and ambitious ideas, deep roots in new/alternative folk and explorations in non-American traditions. And usually quite different album to album – and there have been quite a few albums.
Not surprisingly perhaps, it hasn’t exactly been commercial, but neither has it been wilfully obscure or particularly difficult to get a grip on – as a new arrival among their camp followers, I can attest to this.
In any case, while the album’s closing track, Weird Road Pt 1 is an almost wordless driftwood-in-space five minutes that simultaneously grips (your ears) and loosens (your consciousness), First Aid Kit is a record that in often leaning a bit further into a psychedelic rock frame (It rocks! It gets a bit freaky!) while embracing a physical sense of English goth (The Cure! Bauhaus!), has the makings of a bridge builder to a much bigger audience.
Take, Haunted, where Colleen takes lead, asking “whoever told you, you could have anything that you wanted?”. There is a fibrous bass line and almost rickety percussion pushing along a circular rhythm that has elements of both Native American ceremonies and north-west England drone. Her voice strains forward and then pulls back to cruise, and then repeats, scratching against the dreamscape initially. But when, first, Quinnisa’s rough backing vocals in the chorus, then keyboards giving way to synthesisers, and finally whispered invocations, thicken the growth around her, Colleen becomes more of a guide, a torchbearer ahead. The overall effect is hypnotically compelling.
It’s another dark night but a different mood in Never Ending Nightmare. A walking, woody bass being splashed by tinny percussion is matched by Quinnisa’s more angular voice and a melody that turns almost sinuous. Even as she sings that “I gotta get out of this town/I gotta leave before I make no more sound/I gotta live”, it doesn’t feel desperate so much as progressing; not fearful but aware. When the synthesiser of non-family contributor Chris Livengood drops in with a decided jauntiness and there’s a blast or two on pipes, you begin to realise that this is almost danceable.
Then you have the low pulse and high tremble of Makes Me Wonder (Colleen) and the stomp of In My Head (Quinnisa) to make that dance hover somewhere between spectral and physical. But even then, Big Blood carry sufficient heft to put them nearer a group like California’s Death Valley Girls, who ostensibly sit in a heavier psychedelic rock zone, but like this family pull down pop tunes inside the trippiness.
Indeed, 1000 Times is a straight-out pop song, like The Shangri-Las urgently engaging The Cranberries inside a mini wall of sound. In another decade – the ‘80s of JAMC as much as the ‘60s – this would have been a radio favourite.
That song is one of Quinnisa’s, who, we are told, fashions her lyrics spontaneously at recording. It’s another example of her ability to feel both of her age and somewhere distant from it, the album full of examples of her capturing the questioning and questing of someone partly free as a musician and partly contained as a teenager, isolated during the latter stages of Covid and reaching beyond the immediate.
Matched with a voice that cuts through, that complements that of Colleen, she is no novelty. Nor, 20+ albums in, is this family band.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Big Blood – First Aid Kit
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Big Blood – First Aid Kit