By Hannah Wisterman
Break out your party suits and put on your dancing shoes, because Rainbow Kitten Surprise is back. Well, “back” is a little unfair—they haven’t exactly gone AWOL. Their Audiotree session at the top of last year made it abundantly clear that the band had too much life in them to sink into the shadows. During that session, they hinted at an incoming album, but in the signature way bands do when it’s really not ready: “It’ll come out… sometime.” Turns out sometime is April 6 of this year with How to: Friend, Love, Freefall. What can we look forward to from the album? Let’s take a look.
Some important context: RKS popped onto the scene in 2013, so How to will be their third album in five years. That’s not necessarily above average, but it does indicate a strong, steady pace. The band is doing exactly what they need to in order to build their already-strong fan base. More excitingly, this is going to be their Elektra Records debut; in many respects, this marks a step up to the bigger leagues of music. RKS is now brushing shoulders with the likes of Fitz & The Tantrums and Saint Motel, and reportedly, Grammy winner Jay Joyce is producing How to. That’s our first clue. Fans probably don’t need to expect a major sound shift, but don’t be surprised if the new album sounds a little richer—and potentially more poppy. With a bigger label may come the pressure to sound a little more radio-friendly, but since RKS already sounds so accessible, this isn’t necessarily a threat so much as a development of existing standards.
Next clue: the two singles Rainbow Kitten Surprise has released this year, “Fever Pitch” (Jan. 16) and “Holy War” (Feb. 22). We could talk for hours about the music videos alone, but for the purposes of figuring out How to, let’s focus on sound. “Fever Pitch” starts out sounding like it’s right in line with the band’s last album, RKS (2015), but about a minute in, the band steps it up. There’s an element of funk that comes in, and Sam Melo sings in a satisfyingly perfect rhythm that builds to a moment that I don’t want to call jaw-dropping, but, well, my jaw did drop: Melo raps for a verse. Bold move, but it works, in part because Melo’s voice is just dripping with personality and in part because while unexpected, it’s not out of place among Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s funk-folk-pop vibe. It’s a great choice for a first single, because it says, essentially, “Look, we can still do what you like to hear, but guess what else we can do? Even more cool stuff.”
“Holy War” takes an even bigger step forward. It doesn’t have the mini-shock element that “Fever Pitch” did, but even in the first few seconds, you can tell it’s a little bit of an experiment for RKS. The band doesn’t do a wealth of ballads or slow songs, so the gentle piano intro definitely perks the ears, just in time to give way to yet another wave of funk. RKS really seems to be leaning into these extremely even rhythms, which make the tracks extremely danceable. The rhythm gives the listener something to lean on, in a sense, a steady foundation that makes the track perfect to jam to. The band cleverly doesn’t keep it up the whole time, however, which keeps it from going stale. At the bridge, the percussion falls out to give way to just vocals and reverb: “Kaboom—blowout—everything must go—make way—for the kingdom come,” Melo sings, echoed by the band: “Kaboom, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom, boom, boom.” There’s even some organ backing. It’s not quite at scale enough to make it epic, but it gives the listener a moment of reflection and shows off the harmonies that make RKS so charming. The song resumes into some steady guitar and then ends without building much further.
Frankly, two tracks is plenty of material from which to make predictions, and here’s mine: How to: Friend, Love, Freefall is going to be a joy to listen to. RKS have polished their rough edges but haven’t lost an ounce of personality, and are starting to dabble in new techniques that are highlighting elements they’ve always had: rap to accentuate their jammable tone, bigger harmonies building off their previously smaller ones. Who knows what else they have in store? They’re also going on tour, so if you want to catch them before the drop, you can try to grab some tickets in Georgia or the Carolinas. Jump on it at their website.
How to: Friend, Love, Freefall is available for pre-order, but drops everywhere April 6.