To Kill a King : My Crooked Saint EP
Those fortunate enough to have come across the London based folk act To Kill a King have one up on me as this EP was the first I've heard of them.
Sometimes I look at life and I am so thankful for second chances, and this is similarly true when it comes to second tracks on EPs. I will give the track by track analysis in a moment, but there is bound to be a lesson somewhere in there, almost certainly citing books and their covers, but sometimes when it comes to a review, which is essentially a verdict on quality, meaning, importance and personal reaction, you inevitably start writing it in your head from the second the first chord stikes. No matter how tempting I really need to stop myself from doing that or this review could have turned out the opposite to what it has.
Track 1 : Bloody Shirt
On a production level this one veers far too near Noah And The Whale for my taste, even now as I listen to it I can feel myself detuning my radio on numerous car journeys where “L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.” violated the airwaves. Don’t get me wrong, this effort is massively more substantial than the perennially superficial Noah And The Whale; indeed, focus on the lyrics and the heart of this song shines through.
This track takes its time to find its feet, but when it does there is plenty going on. Really lots going on in fact. So much that you feel robbed of a live performance as the song closes.
Simply put the production of this song very nearly killed it for me. Now I have been more than convinced by the rest of this striking EP I am training myself to hear it differently. I swear if you strain and concentrate you can just about hear the song as it should be under different production. Similar issues have impacted indie-luminaries far and wide with the point famously underlined by The Smiths in their first studio outing (although I liked it, they apparently didn’t); if it can happen to Johnny Marr and Morrissey, we cannot hold it against To Kill a King.
Track 2: We Used to Protest/Gamble
This track calls on the slices of life that Bruce Springsteen used with such variously devastating and uplifting effect that the world transformed his name into “The Boss”. There is, I think, a more identifiable (or perhaps more visible) heart within this song than “Bloody Shirt”, and as such it is more immediately accessible to me. That being said this song’s heart has callouses on it.
I think part of what makes this song successful is that it feels meaningful, and wise, and nostalgic, and real on a level that almost requires the carved-from-granite voice of Johnny Cash to sing. I’m not sure if the second vocal sits too low in the mix, or too high, and by that, I can’t decide whether this works better as a single bold voice singing out across the spanse of time and space covered in the song’s context. I’m not sure where the band gained its inspiration or impetus to write this song, but it really conveys a punch in its maturity and its hard to consider how a band this young came about that. It’s emotional projection at its finest.
Track 3: Family
This knocks quite firmly on the door of the “life truths” vault in a similar way to “We Used to Protest/Gamble”, and whilst it didn’t stand out on my first two or three listens, the more I hear it the more I think this song may grow the deepest of roots on my iPod.
I think this song is sufficiently potent that it will work just as well played on the main stage at Glastonbury as it does on my stereo. This one deserves to be sung back at the band, it really does, and whilst it’s impossible to say whether this band will ever achieve that level of commercial success necessary to be put up on the main stage, they would be fine up there with songs like this.
My only criticism, and sadly there is one, is the guillitine they used to edit the end of the track. I’m sure someone, maybe the band, was trying to make a powerful statement about the blunt final note, but to me I felt robbed of a sustain. That lost sustain, I suspect, would have carried the end of the song into my head all day, and more than likely many others too.
Track4: Wrecking Crew
Certainly the most immediately arresting track on the EP, and a clear demonstration of this band’s breadth. Some of the textures remind me of the sound (not personality) of Wu Lyf, and that’s really not a bad thing in my book.
Having re-listened to the EP several times throughout writing this I guess I’m starting to make sense about the track order, with the energtic conclusion of “Bloody Shirt” called to memory in the darker moods of “Wrecking Crew” giving a unifying aspect to the EP. Certainly there is an alchemy in this song that claws you in and keeps you there, and doesn’t really let you go at the end.
Because of their origins and the folk aspect of their sound this band will be (and have been), likened to Mumford and Sons. As much as I think any comparison to them can only ever be characterised as a good thing it’s not what necessarily came to mind for me. Perhaps surprisingly if any track reminded me of Mumford and Sons it was “Wrecking Crew” and that’s in the darkness that both bands seem to manage with a greater level of comfort than many would expect. It’s their respective abilities to go there, and come back without ever jumping the shark.
A couple of times during this EP my mind was drawn back to some of the stand out tracks and performances from Patrick Wolf’s first two albums. I was lucky enough to catch a couple of his most stark and almost vulnerable shows at that time and there was a beauty that cemented the artist and the songs in my mind; right now I can’t quite put my finger on what it is threading through this EP that woke those memories but I’m really grateful it did.
This comment is admittedly naff and makes me (not the band) look like a massive tool, but I really love the band’s logo. It’s SO good and is the sort of thing marketing companies will stare at as if it is something of universal and transcendental importance, as if divine light emanates from its very edges; I say this with the confidence and guilt of one who has walked amongst their number. I think five minutes evaporated the first time I looked at it, smiling in the admiration of something true.
I really need to see this band live, and soon, and I can only encourage you to get hold of these songs quickly. An EP is not enough.