Local Listen – French Kettle Station Activates Spirit Mode

This is an entry in an ongoing series for 303 Magazine, which will provide a range of local album reviews. It is our intention to highlight the talents of local musicians, whether veterans to the industry or newcomers. Like the bands, the album can be fresh or something we just haven’t had the power to take off repeat in the past few months. Check out previous entries in the series here.

Tall, lanky and squinting in the sun, Luke Thinnes — also known as French Kettle Station — walked calmly through Curtis park, drinking in the warm rays. “I’ve been out in nature a lot this year,” the musician, who is in his mid-twenties, shared as he began listing off all the spots he’d visited recently — Cherry Creek State Park, Estes, Garden of the Gods, Walker Ranch. Hiking, swimming, musing. “You gotta catch the rays, the rays are begging for you to catch them,” Thinnes said.

This bronzed version of Thinnes stood in stark contrast to the Thinnes pre-pandemic. More pale and nocturnal then, Thinnes looked like the kind of guy you’d spot at a show in someone’s basement—or an abandoned warehouse, like Rhinoceropolis. Having been an avid show-goer and DIY enthusiast for the last decade in Denver, Thinnes wears his musical aesthetic like a guiding mantra. A prolific musical machine, Thinnes has put out (by his estimates) 116 releases on his own. On October 1, he released yet another EP, but for his 117th release, Thinnes decided to try something different—this time, he decided to go through a record label, Belgian-based experimental music label Slagwerk, rather than self-release.

French Kettle Station

Photo By Kevin Brown

Normally, Thinnes tells me, he puts a song or album up on Bandcamp, “pretty much the second I finish it.” But this time around, “I wanted to work with a label just to surrender a little bit of control,” he said. “Labels can do a lot for artists and artists can do a lot for labels in terms of adding variety or combining audiences. Plus, labels tend to have a certain aesthetic or curatorial approach, helping guide a listener to a body of work that is similar to the styles of music they enjoy. Honestly, I just got really tired of doing my own artwork.”

 The EP, titled Spirit Mode, was an exercise in seeing how much Thinnes could step away from using hardware. “A lot of it was composed in Ableton, just strictly using software,” he said. I think that expensive machines and gear as a commodity can be very easily fetishized. There’s a lot of people who suspect that since they’re using a certain kind of gear that there’s a quality that is presupposed in their music.”

French Kettle Station

Photo by Padideh Aghanoury

His desire to step away from the implications of one’s socioeconomic status through hardware and gear cultishness is a very telling perspective of Thinnes’ personal politics. Thinnes is someone who has first-hand experience with the challenges of being a musician with not enough money for secure housing, let alone expensive gear and the place to store that gear. When certain people treat music as an exclusionary community reserved only for the affluent, the vibrant fabric of musical diversity begins to fray and fall apart.

Thinnes’ drive for deconstructing the architecture built to maintain the gatekeeping of musical production is a clearly discernible theme of “Spirit Mode.” Balancing on the tightrope between meditation and spastic chaos, Thinnes imposes a punk approach to electronic music that pulls apart the very notion of sonic organization, only to build it back up again. 

The EP begins with “Disarmour,” a squelchy opener that quickly dives into a horizon-spanning expedition into the ether. Scattered specks bounce around a massive echo chamber and a loud din is quickly enveloped by warm synth pads and droning zaps. “Air” repurposes 80s-era synthetic bass samples under soothing crescendos and an omniscient, disembodied voice speaking in a low fry. Ambient swells give rise to keys and bouncing rhythmic pops in “Hellbender,” building to a large wave of distortion and crushed melodies before crashing down into a rapid clicking rhythm that increasingly ramps up in tempo.

Deep, brewing oscillations slowly reverberate out in “5G,” before shifting into a bass-y, borderline funk groove of shimmering keys. The disembodied voice returns, cutting in and out of the warm, bellied drums before withering into melancholic tones. The EP ends with “The Gate.” A soundtrack to a parallel spirit realm, electric flies buzzing around amongst steaming leaves, “The Gate,” builds momentum before taking off from the forest floor and into a rainbow mist of echoing drums and billowing synth notes, all interpolated with chopped up alien-sounding vocals as it reaches the apex of the song. With a sonic boom, the track ends, and the listener falls back down to earth. 

Spirit Mode is available from Slagwerk here, and a custom-designed USB stick can be ordered with the album and includes an exclusive track by French Kettle Station.