Review Summary: Mister state trooper, please don't stop me.
Live albums have a tendency to be hit-or-miss. Whether it’s the band or artist failing to meet the expectations laid out by the weight of their studio albums, or their sound not translating well to a live spectrum (or the recording process that transgresses), they can come off as contrived and sloppy. Of course there are exceptions, incredible ones at that, but the hesitance of the idea still lingers. And cover albums? Well, they’re not so dissimilar-- they’re really easy to mess up… or not mess up at all, and take no risks whatsoever; an arguably worse offense. However, despite the odds being somewhat against Dustin Kensrue on "Thoughts That Float On a Different Blood", he succeeds in putting forth a live cover album that is both fresh and original. For the most part.
The entirety of "Thoughts That Float…" is acoustic, a medium that Kensrue’s gravely, unforgiving voice shines through, sometimes more so than it does on Thrice records. Throughout the album, he adapts various songs, mostly pop and folk, and gives them the ol’ downtempo minimalistic treatment that’s expected from an acoustic album. For most every song, this works rather well, as Kensrue turns even a song as laid-back as Lorde’s "Buzzcut Season" into a show-stopping showcase for his voice. Yes, when it works, it works wonders. Look no further than his cover of Miley Cyrus’ "Wrecking Ball"-- in which Kensrue knocks it out of the goddamned figurative park. To Miley Cyrus’ credit, the song is already an emotional train-wreck, befitting of the subject matter. Kensrue’s acoustic treatment brings the song to new heights, however. Instead of bursting in on the first chorus, the song becomes a slow, crawling build towards the end, eventually snowballing into a desperate outcry. Truthfully, it’s gut-wrenching.
Unfortunately, not every cover is as original. Kensrue’s cover of Brand New’s "Jesus Christ" doesn’t really do anything for the song that hasn’t been done before, or that you can’t find by a YouTube-localized artist with a couple thousand hits. He slurs the words together occasionally throughout the track, most notably at the end (“We all got wooden nails, and we turn out hate in factories” just turns into something rather unintelligible). While there’s a sort of beauty through imperfection, it ultimately just sounds like he forgot the words. And the cover’s eventual crescendo benefits from his gravely calls, but not enough that it demands repeated listens. However, his cover of Radiohead's "Creep" does almost the opposite. Like "Jesus Christ, he doesn’t veer far off the track from the original song too much, but it actually works here. By the end he lets out a triumphant belt that gets a few dozen cheers from the crowd and for good reason-- when Kensrue lets loose, it’s hard to match his power and energy.
This album truly shines, however, when Kensrue covers more classic, older songs. "Round Here" is a beautiful, heartbreaking piece about depression, only exemplified through Kensrue's immediacy. "State Trooper" finds him going toe-to-toe with Springsteen and shifting the song's original subdued, brooding pace into a blistering tune that sounds downright aggressive-- especially as he closes out the song with muted chords and intermittent shouts. And on "Dance Me to the End of Love", Leonard Cohen has another song stolen from him (see: Hallelujah), as Kensrue transforms the song from its original pseudo-noir sound into a powerful ballad that only grows in strength as it progresses, with lyrics like “Dance me to the children who are asking to be born/Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn” sounding all the more haunting and important.
He truly saves the best for last, however-- as on Tom Waits’ "Down There By the Train" Kensrue gives everything he’s got. The bluesy style of the song sounds second-nature to him, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d probably think it was written by Kensrue himself. Like most songs on the album, it builds to a powerful crescendo, this one sounding like an acoustic cut of a song from Thrice’s own "Major/Minor". The result is something, well, epic.
Honestly, if I had any outright complaints about this album, it would be that it lacks a certain personality. Kensrue hardly talks throughout the album, besides in the aptly-titled "Intro" and at the end of "Down There By the Train". Occasionally he asks the audience how they’re doing and such, but besides that, it’s pretty quiet from the frontman. Besides that though (and the lackluster "Jesus Christ" cover), "Thoughts That Float On a Different Blood" is a rather solid live album, filled with fresh covers by one of the most powerful singers in rock today.