Album Review: Maine’s Kioea — Reviving the Sound of Surf Guitar

By Jason M. Rubin

With summer coming, this progressive surf combo’s new recording promises to make an ideal soundtrack for the season.

Jimi Hendrix couldn’t have been more wrong. In his brilliant 1967 song, “Third Stone From the Sun,” he recited this line: “You’ll never hear surf music again.” And yet, from Dick Dale to the Beach Boys to Pulp Fiction, there’s something about the resonance of surf guitar that remains irresistible. It’s a sound that encompasses the range of human emotions. You can dance to it, drown your tears to it, or simply revel in the journey of each string as it goes from sharp pluck to ringing reverberation. On the just-released five-song EP from Maine/New Hampshire-based Kioea (pronounced key-o-e-ah), the gently authoritative sound of leader Carand Burnet’s surf guitar leads take the listener on journeys of their own, all of which feeds a desire to hear more.

Supported by bassist Ian DeCelli and drummer Jake Remignanti, Burnet airbrushes her canvas with thick chords, establishing pliant rhythms that she then solos over with technical skill. She also has a real knack for musical storytelling. All of the song titles suggest the seacoast region from which they were birthed: “Black Sand Beach,” “Crane Feather,” “Dunes,” “Brushfire,” and “Black Witch Moth.” The music’s vibe is  consistent, regardless of tempo or dynamics: it veers easily from rockers to ballads, from the middle eastern feel of “Dunes” to the psychedelic echo effects of “Brushfire.” The EP is bookended by songs whose titles begin with the word “black.” The opener, with its laconic introduction, is decidedly sunnier than the closer, which has layers of wah wah guitar and an insistent drum rhythm reminiscent of the Beatles’ psychedelic classic “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Burnet founded the band in 2019 (the same year, ironically, that Dick Dale died). During the lockdown, she did some solo recordings under the name Angel Lake. “I used that downtime to learn how to create a home studio,” she said in an interview with the Arts Fuse, “and I did some things using sitar and digital sampling, but my focus now is on the band.”

On the group’s Bandcamp site, Burnet describes her creative process:

My artistic practice begins when I record guitar chords into a loop pedal or cassette machine and make a backing track. I play the track and overlay notes. My goal is to create a guitar melody acting like the voice singing each song. When satisfied with the structure, I bring the composition to my bandmates. Together we work out the dynamics and groove.

Kioea, by the way, is the name of a now-extinct Hawaiian bird, which translates to “stand tall.” This is a concept that has immense meaning to Burnet, in more ways than one. When asked to name an artist who inspires her, she responds, “Alice Coltrane has always been a favorite of mine, the way she presented herself as a composer and harpist, and integrated her spiritual viewpoints into things. She embraced music that was more experimental.”

Kioea preserves the power of surf music. Photo: John Skewes.

In addition, as a bandleader Burnet aspires to be a role model for young women and non-binary musicians who are trying to succeed in the music business. Often relegated to “playing music with the guys,” she began to do research about females in music. She found a 2018 study by Fender that showed roughly 50 percent of guitar purchases by beginning or aspirational players are made by women; yet in the 2019 Billboard 100, only 23 percent of musicians were women and female producers accounted for just two percent of the list.

“Being a female bandleader and lead guitarist, I try to remind myself about ‘standing tall,’” she says, “because I know we are few and far between. I’m trying to be a representative of this group for people who don’t have someone to look up to.”

Kioea has a couple of live shows lined up: on May 21, they’ll be appearing at The Thing in The Spring Music Festival in Keene, NH; and on July 1, they’ll be at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth, NH. Burnet also intends to do more recording in the next month or so, and hopes to release more material next year.

The Kioea EP is available at the band’s Bandcamp site. With summer coming, this progressive surf combo’s new recording promises to make an ideal soundtrack for the season.

Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for more than 35 years, the last 20 as senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he has won awards for his copywriting. He has written for Arts Fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Told, released in March 2019, includes an updated version of his first novel along with a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Indie Authors Collective and holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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