Despite the – frankly preposterous – name, Rainbow Kitten Surprise make fairly steady, workmanlike music. There’s a healthy dollop each of earthy folk, echoing gospel and polished indie, and it features up-front, largely beautiful vocals. This is music that has remained a constant in the indie scene over the past few years, and remains a uniquely American concept. There’s tonnes here for you if you’re a fan of The Lumineers, earlier Fleet Foxes, the rootsier side of Kings Of Leon, The Waterboys or flannel shirts, beards and Redwing boots.
Which is to say that North Carolina’s Rainbow Kitten Surprise have arrived fully formed, with a clearly defined sensitive-Americana aesthetic. But it’s in the music gets weird where they truly shine. There’s a Beck-like megaphone rap on Fever Pitch, which closes out a slightly-fuzzy, rhythmic slice of indie-folk. The clanging, industrial percussion that opens Matchbox gives way to a Strokes-y hyper-caffeinated guitar strut, and it becomes one of the better songs on the record by adding ever more textures. Seventeen years later, and the leather jacketed, oily stink of Is This It is still permeating modern rock. Meanwhile the country R’n’B groove of Hide is joyously constructed around a lean funk groove, featuring some exquisitely mic’ed drums.
It’s worth mentioning here that there isn’t a single moment on this record that doesn’t sound well-produced and well-considered. The guitars chime, ring, howl or crunch with just the right amount of looseness to fool you into believing that the music is completely organic – and this is the mark of great production. The album sounds fantastic.
A highlight is the bass-driven When It Lands, which encapsulates the entire Rainbow Kitten Surprise sound. There’s soaring church camp vocals, campfire-singalong backing vocals and a genuinely grin-worthy rap with an excellent flow. Who’d have thunk it? Underneath the rap, a chugging guitar grumbles and rumbles with a refreshing sense of muscularity. It’s superb. The heard-it-from-the-next-room shoegaze of Possum Queen instantly evokes Deerhunter, and makes you wish there was slightly more of a space-y vibe on the record, as it’s clearly something they do well. The record closes with the oddball-Americana of Polite Company.
It’s incredibly hard to criticise music that sounds so honest, yet it’s such po-faced earnestness that lets of a lot of bands down. Rainbow Kitten Surprise are tapping a dry well, but the moments of bliss and intrigue here are more than worth the effort to find.