The new EP “To the Fire” is very much a worthy follow-up to the band’s last full-length LP, 2013’s “Battles” — the tight, raucous folk-punk instrumentation, compelling backing harmonies (ably provided by Jenee Morgan) and impassioned, raspy lead vocals from frontman Naseem Khuri are all present and accounted for.
But that’s not to say it suffers from sameness: Following their Americana-tinged debut “Dust Windows” in 2010, Kingsley Flood’s sound has bloomed into an almost unclassifiable indie rock melange of styles and influences, and the band remains all the more surprising — and listenable — because of it.
In particular Khuri, with his fiery, almost Strummer-esque delivery, continues to stand out in an indie landscape of one-too-many emo crooners — on top of George Hall’s unerringly complementary guitar work, he propels tracks like the chugging “Thick Of It” into mid-’70s live Dylan territory, drawing out syllables (“now we’re in the thick of iiiiiiiiit, oh boy”) in a rollicking spirit of controlled frenzy.
But what continues to separate Kingsley Flood from the pack, both in general and on “To the Fire,” are Khuri’s lyrics, awash as they are in the struggle, regret and resignation that make up real-world lives. In “Thick Of It” he declares that “Dreams don’t die, they just get managed,” a line that could have come right off Springsteen’s “The River.” It’s an apt comparison — the working stiffs and wanderers that populate “To the Fire” would fit right into Bruce’s wheelhouse.
Despite having “a mirror rich with blame,” “I won’t say I’m sorry,” he sings to a struggling companion on “All In All” — just one small, rich detail on an EP chock full of them. Nowhere is this more so than on the closing track “Cavalry,” which feels like the band’s most personal and resignedly melancholy track ever. “The Sox keep losing track of their roots and screwin’ the bullpen,” Khuri muses, before claiming to contemplate taking off for points unknown: “Please call on the cavalry, for I’m gone,” he sings, in a way that makes you know he’s not.
Buoyed as always by beautifully realized horn and string arrangements, the five tracks on “To the Fire” are a welcome addition to Kingsley Flood canon — if it suffers from anything, it’s the curse that plagues most good EPs, in that it’s frustratingly short. But with plenty of time to go to collect pledges, it bodes well for whatever the band’s going to spend its fans’ money on next.
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