Kaonashi - Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (Cover Artwork)


Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (2021)

Equal Vision / Rude Records

It’s a bold title for a debut album, isn’t it? But it’s quite apt for the kind of band that Philadelphia’s Kaonashi are. Unusual, intriguing and wilfully baffling. The title actually refers to the album’s content quite directly as it is a concept record of sorts, following the fortunes of Jamie, a gender-ambiguous teenager entering their final year of high school. The band have used Jamie in their music before, most notably in 2018’s EP (mini-album?) Why Did You Do It? which received critical acclaim in certain corners of the scene.

I mentioned that Kaonashi are baffling, so I should probably expand on that for those who have never heard the band before. They describe themselves as emo-mathcore, which I absolutely can’t disagree with. But first I’ll come to the most immediate conversation point. Lead vocalist Peter Rono’s style can be polarising. His default register is high and yelped; a sort of falsetto hardcore approach, I suppose. At times he does bring it down a few notches and there are even spoken word passages which I personally feel are better at conveying the weight of emotion that the lyrics carry when you really listen to the content. Given that I listen to a lot of extreme metal it’s not the style in and of itself, more that it often takes the songs to the fringes of being ‘wacky’, which just doesn’t sit well with me. Imagine if a cartoon version of Jordan Dreyer from La Dispute was being given electro-shock treatment and you’ll probably understand roughly what I hear for a lot of the record, which is a shame because Rono clearly has range when he chooses to use it. But I also accept that this may simply be a personal taste issue more than there being anything objectively wrong with the artistic decision.

Musically, the band are angular, chaotic and technical. However, unlike some mathcore bands (and this is where the emo kicks in, musically), Kaonashi don’t shy away from gentler, emotive passages and that dynamism makes for a fascinating and exciting listen. There are multiple tunings employed, lightning fast fretwork, harmonics, keys, odd time signatures and tempo changes, synth beds, solos (the last minute of “A Recipe For A Meaningful Life” houses one of the solos of the year so far), the list goes on. But what’s truly impressive is that it doesn’t feel disparate when listened to as a single piece. There are also moments of calm dotted throughout the record, so you don’t get too exhausted and to add contrast. The final act of the record takes the form of the last three songs (“The Underdog I, II and III” – I won’t write the full titles of each) and in these 3 songs the band move from progressive, melodic hardcore to an acoustic lament, to finally closing with what might be the best representation of their sound that exists in a single song.

There is a staggering amount of talent in this band, that’s for sure. The concept of the album works well. The craft involved in the songwriting is advanced for a band of this relative age. There are just a few things that some people may find hard to get on with. Specifically, the dizzying musical canvas and unorthodox vocal approach. But equally, I am certain that there are people for whom this will be the best record they hear this year. I fall somewhere between the two, but when I’m in the mood, I’m glad that I will have Kaonashi to reach for in future.