“How could I let you?” asks Kills Birds frontwoman Nina Ljeti of herself on ‘Rabbit’, the opening track on the LA rock band’s new album, ‘Married’. She whispers the lyric, as if barely daring to speak it. The trio – completed by guitarist Jacob Loeb and bassist Fielder Thomas, plus studio drummer Bosh Rothman – then roar into life and Ljeti’s full voice returns, tearing alongside the fierce instrumental.
It’s a track on which Ljeti explores the abuse she has suffered at the hands of a “powerful person”. “This is how you talk about me: you made me who I am today,” she sings. “I could have tanked you, ended you / But I’m not like the other girls.” The latter line is a sardonic take on a phrase that is so often used to groom and manipulate women, and a nod to the isolation of abuse. By turning these feelings of shame into powerful catharsis Ljeti tears down those walls, inviting anyone who relates to her lyrics to join Kills Birds on this platform.
She further explores these themes of pain and loneliness on ‘Glisten’, where she asks “Why don’t you want me?”, and ‘Offside’, where manipulation leaves her feeling trapped inside a burning house. The singer then grapples with the broader manifestations of a patriarchal society: on ‘Good Planning’, there’s a sense of dread to the sludgy instrumental as Ljeti depicts the pressure that accompanies others’ expectations to bear children. On ‘PTL’, meanwhile, she satirises religious arrogance by singing: “Give to me, and God will shine on only me.”
Kills Birds’ arrangements are heavy and sharp throughout, swirling together elements of grunge, punk, garage and noise-rock into a murky pool of sound. Volatility is always at the core of this band, and these songs often feel as though they could explode at any second. Take ‘Glisten’, where the riffs veer between gentle murmurs and jagged blasts of noise. Sonically, it’s a potent representation of the turbulence of trauma.
The acoustic heartbreak of the title track provides the record’s only soft moment. “I’m married” are the ballad’s — and the album’s — ambiguous last words, with Ljeti repeating the phrase quieter each time. Yet while she may sound momentarily defeated in the song, Ljeti is in fact rallied by the strong, marital-like bond she shares with her bandmates across ‘Married’. To speak it is to make it true, and now there’s no fear in that.
Release date: November 12
Record label: Royal Mountain Records