The origin stories of KISMET, Slow Packer and Carly Taich track like a single French braid. Mike Johnson and Jack Victor, the brothers who make up Slow Packer, were formerly part of Midnight Snack with KISMET trumpet player Katie Richter, and Taich also collaborated with them when she first moved from Boone to Asheville in 2015. Midnight Snack has since dissolved, but the three active projects are releasing new EPs within weeks of each other — all of which were serendipitously recorded at Johnson’s Cat’s Claw studio.
The process of releasing an album is a test of patience in practically any circumstance, but KISMET — composed of Richter, keyboardist Lilly-Anne Merat and guitarist Maddie Shuler, each of whom double as vocalists — has been sitting on its debut eponymous collection since spring 2019.
“We got the final copies in September of last year,” Richter says. “Lilly plays with a band called Third Nature, an electronic fusion band, and they were putting out their album that same fall, so we just decided to postpone KISMET until the spring — and then COVID happened.”
A year and a half later, the trio released the three-song EP on Dec. 11. The first and third songs, “Tell Me” and “Waves of Gold,” were written by Shuler and are a bit funkier than the track they flank.
“There’s a little more improvisation and play between the trumpet and guitar in both of Maddie’s tunes,” Richter says. “The vocal arrangements and the choruses, for example, definitely have a little more presence and pop and attitude.”
The second track, “Shadow,” was written by Merat and is darker and sultrier. “It definitely has this sort of Latin groove and sort of Latin-inspired trumpet part that is pretty distinct,” Richter says.
Johnson (bass) and Victor (drums) both appear on the EP, which was mastered by Anthony Thogmartin of fellow local band Papadosio. kismetavl.bandcamp.com
The suite life
While KISMET’s EP was created prior to the COVID-19 fallout, Victor wrote This Life and the Next in the thick of the pandemic.
“I was writing a bunch of songs toward the early days of the quarantine phase, like May-June, and I hit this really good writing stride,” Victor says. “[I] was going through some stuff in my personal life that was kind of challenging for me and was getting a lot of relief from the songwriting, but I wasn’t sure if it was good or needed to be shown to anybody.”
He showed what he had to Johnson, who loved the songs and suggested they begin recording right away while it was still fresh.
“I had written the songs on the piano,” Victor says. “We tracked that first for the full piece, so we just had this one 17-minute track that was all five songs, and then ended up playing all the other parts to that initial take of the piano and the vocals.”
After adding Victor’s drums and Johnson’s bass, guitars and synthesizer, the result is a five-song “suite” with custom transitions implemented as a means of ushering in each subsequent track. Victor stresses that the tracks are intended to be listened to in order.
“The sound of it is piano-driven … [and there’s] a lot of synthesizer textures,” he explains. “These pieces are definitely more on the slower side. It’s emotional music, for sure. I guess people would bulk it into an indie-rock or an art-rock category. That’s kind of the general vibe of it.” slowpacker.bandcamp.com
Six sides now
Taich’s new EP, It Tends to Glow, intentionally contains six songs. The album focuses on love, with each song lending a different perspective to create what she refers to as “a six-sided die.”
“This is a bit of a concept album, because every single song is what I call a ‘love song,’” Taich says. “It’s really my way of exploring what an actual love song is, because it’s ubiquitous. Love songs are everywhere, but what does it really look like to love someone in the purest sense?”
Opening song “Love Is” conveys a protective, innocent aspect of love. “Tomatoes,” the third track, contains the lyric that ultimately became the EP’s title and focuses on the loss of love. The song tells the story of a person who loses someone very close and must learn to live without that person.
“I don’t want to say it’s my favorite, but it might be,” Taich says.
The singer/songwriter last released an album in 2017, and all of the same people who played on it also appear on It Tends to Glow: Johnson and Victor (who coproduced the album with Taich), their former Midnight Snack bandmate Zack Kardon and violinist Alex Travers. Despite the consistency in personnel, Taich says the new tracks vary from any of her previous work, the latter of which she describes as “really, really thick musically and kind of created for live performance.”
“This record, compared to earlier releases, is sonically more intimate and spacious,” Taich says. “It still has that same cinematic quality but with a more low-key, ’60s folk-pop approach.” carlytaich.bandcamp.com