REVIEW: Kingsley Flood - Battles

Kingsley Flood’s music is frequently referred to as “Americana,” a label that may have worked early in their career. But comparing them to a band like Mumford and Sons is like comparing a 1967 Mustang to a 2009 Mustang: there’s some things that look the same on the surface, but you don’t have to look to hard to find the differences. Putting it another way, one is a fake, plasticized replica of something; the other is Kingsley Flood.

Their new record, Battles, is certainly more electric than their 2010 debut Dust Windows or last year’s Colder Still EP, but the core rock sensibility has always been there.  And to say that a Strokes-esque rocker like “Down” is Americana does a disservice to both the genre and the band, since it’s extremely difficult to pigeonhole them into such categories.

Battles was built on a successful PledgeMusic campaign, and comes as the band is riding a wave of attention. Late last year their hometown saluted them with a Boston Music Award for Americana act of the year (there’s that word again), Rolling Stone and American Songwriter streamed new songs, and MTV dubbed the leadoff single from the album, the blues-rocker “Pick Your Battles”, as “buzzworthy.” (Yes, apparently this is something MTV still does.) (While most of the band has remained in Boston, Singer/guitarist/songwriter Naseem Khuri has taken up residence in the District, meaning our area can now lay at least partial claim to the budding stars.)

Make no mistake, the accolades foisted upon Kingsley Flood are well-deserved. Battles offers a clinic in top-notch songwriting, from the quiet, introspective leadoff, “Don’t Change My Mind” to the country-rocker “Strongman” to the Springsteen-tinged “The Fire Inside,” there isn’t a weak link to be found among the albums twelve songs.

Khuri is fortunate enough to have a multi-talented group along with him, most notably Jenée Morgan who plays the rare duo of violin and saxophone (though not at the same time, one would think), and Chris Barrett, who adds some formidable trumpet skills to his keyboard playing. This unique combo of musical skills makes for some exceptional musical moments, such as on the jumpy “Sun Gonna Lemme Shine” when the tight, crisp quarter notes of the verses give way to a tremolo guitar effect in the chorus, followed by a shimmering violin in the bridge. “Waiting On the River to Rise” chugs along in ominous acoustic fashion reminiscent of Deer Tick before trumpets crop up about halfway through. And both the violin and trumpet are used together brilliantly on the lovely “Hard Times for the Quiet Kind,” which starts out slow but grows into a bass-heavy rocker with an exceedingly catchy chorus.

There’s a lot going on on Battles, and dissecting it over the course of several listens is a treat. With increasing buzz and an upcoming tour with David Wax Museum, Kingsley Flood will hopefully escape the Americana label and become a category unto themselves.