They took their time for good reason: the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 shut down much of the music industry, and the ways it changed how we perceive and navigate the world continue to reverberate.
“Underbelly reflects everything that happens inside your soul when the world stops on its tracks,” said Chris Bowers Castillo.
Underbelly begins on an understated note, as the short and sweet intro “Crazy (In The Absence)” doesn’t make any sudden moves. It’s more of an interlude than an intro, bridging the gap between the first and second album.
Then “Guanaco” jumps joyfully out of the gate, with a subtle yet dancing beat. It’s one of the singles off the sophomore album, a strong representation of their signature sound. Bowers Castillo sings “Oye mira pa’ allá / Ya viene el guanaco,” which means “Hey, look over there / the guanaco is coming.”
“A guanaco is a South American animal that is a bit like a llama. It’s known for spitting,” according to Bowers Castillo. But while their name, Kiltro, is a word used in Chile for stray dogs or mutts, this song is not actually about an animal.
“In Chile, it [guanaco] has another meaning, and is colloquially used to refer to police vehicles that shoot water at protestors. We wrote this song in the wake of the 2019 protests for a new constitution in Chile,” said Bowers Castillo. “Taken more literally, it means a beast is coming, here. Of course, a guanaco is not a terrifying thing, but a police line in riot gear with the machinery of dispersion and violence, is.”
The song doesn’t necessarily feel foreboding—almost playful—but embodies the chaotic or scattered sense of what it might feel like to be in a group of protestors as the police approach. “I wanted to capture that peculiar environment of communal tension and mounting emotional energy, be it conviction or catharsis, or fear,” said Bowers Castillo.
“Errasuriz” lingers and fades out into their second single, “All the Time in the World.” It’s a soft landing, a moment to gently sway and look inward. The band describes it as “a breath of fresh air… while making the record in dark times. It’s a reminder that no matter how the world may spiral, it’s important to stop and take a breath.”
It holds a strong feeling of longing, of wanting to hold on to something or someone longer than is possible (“for you I’d trade all the time in the world”). And towards the end of the tune, there’s a moment in the music without vocals that sounds like the way light reflects off the water in golden hour: time feels suspended, like you have all the time in the world.
“There’s a place I go to that never changes / Like a thought that takes you in the afternoon,” Bowers Castillo muses.
Perhaps this is a place that can only exist in one’s mind, or in a moment of music.
“Crazy” picks the beat up again with a driving, forward motion, as the lyrics play with the struggle of seeing someone in front of you versus actually knowing them. Yet it’s when “Softy” begins that I feel like I’ve flipped the record, that I’m on the B Side of the album. I wonder, is this Kiltro?? in the best way possible.
“If you’re quiet, I’m sure you’ll hear it yourself,” he teases in the lyrics.
When Bowers Castillo breaks into the chorus, my heart melts completely. His falsetto is unmatchable, a consistent but delicate contrast to sultry lower tones that reappear only moments later. If you don’t fall in love with Kiltro and/or this release by this point in the album, I’m not sure what else you need to hear.
“I love this song. It feels very intimate to me in that it deals with the contradictory nature of identity, and how the desire for release from our unending internal dialogue and self-critique is undercut by our own addiction to it,” he said.
The transition into “Kerosene” is seamless, effortless. The rich bass sets the scene of a what feels like a movie soundtrack, as the band takes their sweet time to reach the lyrics. There’s a pulsating flow to the music, a sense of looping repetition that mirrors the words: “Most things we leave / End up coming back.”
The title track, “Underbelly” comes much later in the album than I would have expected—but of course, it is worth the wait. It’s aptly placed in the second half, the portion where they humbly show off how they’ve evolved in the past three or four years. There is a jazz club feel at the beginning, and again, Bowers Castillo is in no rush to sing as the band lets the instrumentals and effects shine.
When he sings, “There’s always a part of us that quietly / Is vanishing / How I love to see me go,” I like to think that it’s Kiltro’s members’ expectations of themselves, their fears, and their holdups. This song feels like its vanishing as it progresses, and what it gives way to is pure magic.
I love this album as its own, and as strong sophomore album for the band. As I noted in my 2019 review, it feels like their songs have always meant to exist, that they simply reveal them to us in sound. They help find the feelings I have somewhere deep inside me, and allow me to feel them—which is no small feat in 2023.
A lot has changed in the world in the past four years, to say the least. As Bowers Castillo sings in “Softy,” “Sometimes it seems I’m arriving / as somebody else.”
The irony is that I’ve already been through this at least once before. In the fall of 2018 through the first half of 2019, I was quite ill. Kiltro’s first album and release show that summer hung in the future like a finish line, as I began to improve in 2019. I then listened to Creatures of Habit constantly for weeks after its release, and in my car’s CD player on and off for the entire year following. I never got sick of it.
And now in the summer of 2023, I once again listen to a new Kiltro album significantly changed. I continue to take important precautions to avoid the airborne, life-changing virus constantly among us, and do not attend many indoor live music events. My health luckily, has wavered but held steady, in the face of injuries and invisible threats. I even started and left a job in the past four years, shifting my career, now two months in to a new pursuit. I’ve had a handful of heartbreaks, moved twice, drive a different car, use a different phone, adopted a cat (and love that there is one on the cover for Underbelly!), and dealt with devastating grief. I feel as if I am arriving as somebody else.
“Do you break by the hammer or ring like a bell?” he asks in “Softy," hinting at how change can make or break us.
“So much of this album is defined by the conditions that made it,” said Bowers Castillo.
“Our debut – 2019’s Creatures of Habit – has a social, almost communal feel to it, because we played it live time after time before recording. In a way, the songs were troubleshooted in the presence of an audience, then honed in the studio. Underbelly, on the other hand, was made in quarantine. It was just us obsessing in the studio, and we ended up following whatever thread seemed most interesting at the time, which made for an album that is more experimental and creative.”
The irony, that in a time of drastic, global change, some of the best things stay the same: the quality of Kiltro's music, their creative innovation, and ability to rise to meet a moment in time.
“We were living through unprecedented times and coming to terms with all of it. The album is a reflection of that. At the end of the day, we wanted to create the kind of music that we didn’t hear anywhere else,” said Parkhill.
Not only have the succeeded in that, but in trying to come to terms with the way the world has so suddenly changed, Kiltro is helping the rest of us do the same. The former is an achievement, the latter a gift.
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