It’s hard to label the RiceCrackers. Berklee-bred. Asian-background. Female-fronted. But most importantly, genre-elusive. They released their debut EP Kolohe Kid on July 19, and with four tracks in four different styles, the band is as hard to define musically as it is aesthetically. The lyrics weave social commentary with quirky quips and the music style spews garage grunge to early reggae, through a filter of youth angst, social injustice, and Berklee training. Kolohe Kid is the marker of a band itching to break into the expansive gulf of the altrock scene and when that wave crashes ashore, you can bet The RiceCrackers will leave some addictively weird tunes in their wake.
Lyricist and vocalist Olivia West spoke with me about where she drew inspiration for the EP. She faced ethnic prejudice growing up, and the lyrics often reflect that, as well as trying to get along in a sometimes tough Boston scene. “This is sort of a ‘don’t be a jerk EP’,” she said.
The first track, “Mall Girls” starts out sparingly. Olivia’s vocal is almost too clean, crisp, and high-pitched for a band that describes themselves as having “formed in the sewers” of Berklee. But her voice builds in roughness as the instruments build in classic grunge/punk style. Angelic “oos” contrast viscerally with the grinding guitar riff and lyrics “Hype me up then tear me down / Named me the Queen but you threw me half a crown.”
If “Mall Girls” could be described as riot grrrl-esque grunge, the second track, “Fish,” solidifies the band’s aesthetic as 90s-era grunge youths, trying to figure out their roles and identities in a modern urban rat race. The third song, “Perspective,” again meditates on roles in society, but through an instrumentally reggae lens.
Bassist Yoshi Ady said of the band’s ska elements, “I learned everything I know from playing shows in the Hawaii punk ska scene. Some of my biggest influences are Black square, 86 List, and Pepper.”
Olivia’s vocal style oscillates between badass Asian banshee and grunge goddess in a way that matches perfectly with the band’s overall versatility in a way both unexpected and dangerously catchy. Because what makes Kolohe Kid (kolohe, by the way, means troublemaker), a unique EP, is the fact that for the second half, the band steps out of the identity they just spent the first two songs constructing, and skanks into a new one, with early ska and reggae influences on Perspective, and third wave ska punk beats on “My Asian Grandma.”
“We incorporate many sounds of the 90’s, (early hardcore, ska punk, grunge, popish, punk, and garage),” said Olivia. “I am just too invested in those genres to not include them all at once.”