Kneeling in Piss gets loud on ‘Types of Cults’

Alex Mussawir follows an EP recorded largely alone in his apartment with a more riotous full-band effort

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Kneeling in Piss

The long arc of the last year can be heard, in some ways, within the string of EPs released by Kneeling in Piss beginning in April 2020 with The Mob, which singer and songwriter Alex Mussawir recorded with a full band during tour stops in New Orleans, Oakland, Santa Fe and Salt Lake City. 

Music for Peasants followed in October, captured almost entirely alone by Mussawir, who recorded alongside a drum machine while stowed away in his apartment amid lingering stay-at-home orders. 

Now, with vaccine rates climbing and an end to the pandemic starting to take focus, Kneeling in Piss is planning an April 23 release for Types of Cults, on which Mussawir reestablishes band connections long obliterated by COVID-19. 

“All four of us have been working basically in public the whole time, so after a while it kind of felt like, you know, we’re around thousands of people at our jobs, it’s not going to be a big deal if we have band practice,” said Mussawir, who is joined on Types of Cults by Kyle Bergamo, Scott Hagelgans and Ben Leach. “I hesitate to call it a return to form, because the band has never really existed in any consistent arrangement (Mussawir estimated that he’s played with 15 different musicians under the Kneeling in Piss banner). But this one was written and recorded largely by having the same four of us in the practice space each week, which felt normal, and wasn’t really jarring. The only thing jarring was how loud it was when we finally returned to the practice space and were all playing together for the first time, because I don’t think I’d heard a loud noise for a year.”

This jolt hits at the onset of the new EP with “I Am a Patsy,” which rides a loose, looping guitar riff and propulsive drums, Mussawir unfurling a stream of lyrics that were inspired, in part, by reading he has done into the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, but also by the idea of separating conspiracy theory from truth and the challenge of doing so in an era where those lines can be increasingly blurred. (The song’s opening line makes reference to George de Mohrenschildt, who befriended Lee Harvey Oswald the summer before JFK was killed and later testified that Oswald was little more than a pawn in a larger conspiracy; de Mohrenschildt would later title a manuscript about his relationship with Oswald I Am a Patsy! I Am a Patsy!)

JFK and the Unspeakable was the first book I read about it, and [author James W. Douglass] posits what I think is the only reasonable explanation for what happened,” Mussawir said of the book, which theorizes that the president was killed in a plot led by his own security apparatus. “If it seems like at least some contingent of the CIA was complicit in assassinating a president, it’s hard to not view that as being at least a good place to start with understanding the current political climate. … It kind of feels, in some ways, like a hall of mirrors, and the more you read about it the more you can understand the political situation of 2021. 

“I think that this year, more than any period in my life, I’ve seen people post more conspiracy theories on the internet, most notably the QAnon stuff. But next to that is the Russian red herring. Conspiracy is in the mainstream of political discourse. And some of it seems silly, and some of it seems like it might be true, or at least being used opportunistically. At the same time, I’m susceptible to it, too, because there are certain things, like the Kennedy assassination or the Jeffrey Epstein thing, where there so clearly seems to be some kind of conspiracy involved.”

The rise in online conspiracies is a part of what continues to drive Mussawir’s lingering distrust of technology, which surfaced in past Kneeling in Piss songs such as “USA Will Start Another War,” off of 2020 full-length Tour De Force. "Everyone is refreshing their phone," Mussawir sings. "Progress can be something you’re ashamed of, you know.”

Similar concerns surface in Types of Cults tracks such as “Return, Return,” on which Mussawir catches a glimpse of his face onscreen in a line that calls to mind newly prevalent Zoom meetings, and more explicitly on “I Love My Echo Chamber,” which finds the narrator retreating to the comfort of their carefully cultivated bubble — yet another damaging side effect of the growing digital divide.

“I have a very unhealthy relationship with technology, and if I’m not careful I can spend hours of my day on Twitter or Instagram, and they make me feel absolutely terrible,” said Mussawir, who has been further challenged in that task during a year where gadgets have been the only way to connect with some people. “There’s certainly a conflicting relationship with it, where it’s this thing I use daily that I also recognize as being the source of much of my displeasure.”

These ideas are threaded throughout the three Kneeling in Piss EPs released since April 2020, which are currently being compiled into a single full-length due later on Anyway Records. “I only write about three or four different things, really,” cracked Mussawir, who took early songwriting inspiration from minimalist authors such as Raymond Carver, Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis, among others.

Taken collectively, though, the dozen-odd songs recorded over the last year manage to capture a sense of the increa chaos and deepening political and social divisions that have been further magnified by COVID, even as Mussawir set surrealist, stream-of-consciousness escapes alongside more direct tracks.

“It’s like the five-minute avant-garde scene in the narrative film,” Mussawir said. “But it kind of feels like it works, even if some of the songs have a drum machine.”