Review Summary: The Surprise is that they're actually really good!
Just a few years ago, the most unique and interesting act in indie, both in name and music, was on the verge of calling it quits. The life of the road had strained a once healthy relationship between the band members who had been friends since meeting in college. It's understandable..... Their music had begun to take off, they had moved on from local legends to playing for festivals like Bonnaroo and sellout crowds in smaller venues across the country, and that sort of takeoff to the next level can be straining. So they took a little time off to think. With a little space, they realized they had forgotten how to just be friends along the way of their new journeys. Thankfully this realization allowed them to mend the weak points in their relationship and keep making music together while also inspiring the themes presented in the album's title, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall.
RKS is actually quite a diverse group, both in terms of background and in sound (I bet you never could have guessed based on their name). When your influence list includes Kings of Leon, Lana Del Ray, Kendrick Lamar, Modest Mouse, and the reggaeton sounds of the Dominican home in which lead vocalist Sam Melo grew up, things are bound to get a little crazy. While their first two albums may have stuck to a more conservative interpretation of this sound blend, with their third output and first to come from a real studio, RKS let it all fly in vibrant color across the eclectic song selection. Right away, the album opens with an intro track that is reminiscent of the progressive folk of Fleet Foxes and nearly immediately swaps seamlessly into Mission to Mars, a stripped down indie rocker that is structurally one of their most creative songs to date.
Again letting their wild side out, the next couple tracks have everything from hip-hop sections to those reggaeton beats mentioned earlier. While this looseness and disregard for genre is quite refreshing, the transitions between the songs here present perhaps the only major flaw of the album. That being said, the three track combo here is a clear highlight of the release peaking at the near title-track, It's Called: Freefall. To say a little more on this masterpiece of a track, I'd be remised to not discuss how incredible the vocal harmonization between the band members here works. On top of that, the simple riff it breaks into afterwards, one of the catchiest moments they've written, dances quickly and energetically before it abruptly ends into another brilliant piece in Holy War. Again they get at it with the odd transitions here but it works to their favor as the energy switching from serious to fun, back and forth, keeps you guessing and quite entertained.
Perhaps the other great representation of the RKS sound and personality is on the track Hide. This is also the perfect time to discuss the mastermind behind the songs Sam Melo who could easily be compared to a modern day Freddie Mercury in both charisma and (almost) in talent. Interestingly enough, Melo is also a gay man who, like Mercury, owns it, but usually doesn't choose to make it the focus of his music. That changes on Hide when he decides to express his feelings on how it felt to grow up a gay man in a conservative Catholic family in the Dominican. Melo belts his heart out on this song with such a power to show he's got passion and he's here to inspire.
Overall, for those fans familiar with their older work, how this compares to the lofty standards already may be a bit of a mixed bag. By far, this is their most mature record in terms of production and style. The songwriting is equally as good and unique, too; just take a listen at that structure on Mission to Mars or Possum Queen to see. If you're like me, some of that "recorded in a dorm room" production charm of their earlier output has value that is somewhat missed here, but getting past that, this truly has potential to be called their best record yet. With time, this reveals itself to be their best foot forward.