Album: A Single Strand
Label: Torque Recording Company
Buy: IVM Store
Review by the Headless Horseman.
1. Strengthen Me…
2. Hold Your Breath
3. Alone Tonight
4. City Lights
5. Speak Softly
6. Of Wolves and Angels (Anthem for the Insomniac)
*Note: “Of Wolves and Angels” is free to download at the band’s PureVolume page.*
7. Dear Michigan
9. Lying Sure Beats Shaving Your Legs
10. …That I May Not Cause Pain
12. The Reprise
It takes a lot of talent and a lot of luck to form a successful band. You need to break down sonic elements to a T, to empty yourself emotionally without coming off as trite, to make sure that those who hear you will instantly have a better time. In this regard Kiros have at least one thing going for them as a: teenage girls love them. Unfortunately, sweaty dudes also really seem to love them, so maybe those two cancel out. Falling more into the latter crowd than the former, I’m not really qualified to judge. Either way, seeing Kiros live is pretty fun, and I definitely recommend it.
I’m going to have a hard time writing this review for that reason. I listened to this record when I was sent it, and it didn’t stick at all. Then I saw Kiros at Soulfest 2008, and they played a really solid show. They impressed me. The problem I face is no longer that these songs aren’t good (generally speaking); the problem is now that the good songs were so much better live than they are recorded. I’m going to try to stick to reviewing the record, but live show mentions will be frequent. Bear with me.
Kiros play pop/rock music to the fullest extent of the term. There are rock songs with pop hooks here, and there are pop songs and ballads with rock instrumentation. It’s hard to find an exact comparison to make, so suffice it to say that they sound like most of the pop/rock music that comes out today. Please understand this is not at all a bad thing; when Kiros plays this music well, they actually stand out in the genre. This happens periodically, particularly with the affecting “Speak Softly,” with its dual-guy-and-girl-vocals lines about being away from girl and guy, respectively, and its driving and compelling bridge. If taking it up a step feels like slight overkill at the end, the song’s formula is still endearing enough to demand repeat listens while plaintively playing air-guitar power chords. It’s fun. Try it.
It might not all be transcendence, but Kiros keeps pace with their contemporaries for much of A Single Strand. The eyebrow-raisingly-titled “Lying Sure Beats Shaving Your Legs” is a playful frolic through girl drama (perhaps the one song I’ve heard both live and on record that was better on record). “Hold Your Breath” is one of the lyrically stronger cuts, and the guitars are the most technical here, climaxing with an outro solo that is unfortunately cut short abruptly. It’s impossible not to sing along when the chorus begins: “So don’t let go, as if the story’s told. You hold your breath…still waiting…” Finally, “City Lights” is a paragon of a lighter anthem. It makes you want to simultaneously jump, sing along very loudly, and believe in something bigger than yourself. Not too shabby.
Some of Kiros’s talent simply doesn’t translate to CD, though. I promise you that “Of Wolves and Angels” was a pretty intense moment in the setlist when the crowd was swarming and gyrating, but with a dense sonic wall behind an emotionally lacking vocal, the version you’ll hear on record will fail to impress. “Beautiful”‘s chorus was possibly the highlight of the whole show live, and it might be the band’s best-expressed sentiment on record (save for the closer, more on that later), but the emptiness behind the mild, noodling guitar riffs just doesn’t sound that cool, and the gang vocals thus feel forced. Props to lead singer Barry MacKichan for thrusting aside all vocal restraint on this one, though; these songs would probably impress on a larger scale if he did so more often. On opener “Strengthen Me,” the chorus amazes live mostly when MacKichan flawlessly jumps a third up to belt out “But it’s just not the way that we thought it would be…” The version here doesn’t have any kind of comparable energy, and so it just doesn’t demand the same sort of attention.
And then there are the real missteps. “Dear Michigan” is a pretty decent song, somewhat reminiscent of New Found Glory with a singer like Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, but as the only song written (lyrically, at least) and sung by guitarist Jon Purschke, it clashes with the songs around it. Advice to the band: Have Purschke write four or five tracks next time, even if he doesn’t sing them. This side of the band’s sound would be fun if further explored.
The band closed with “Heaven” live, and I can sort of see why, because it plays into the band’s message of hope (covertly, if not explicitly, in God), but the references to the sun still shining are overused images, and the chorus lyrics are a cross between wordplay reminiscent of the bridge of Bayside’s “Blame It On Bad Luck” and a message that is only surface deep: “There must be more than this. There must be more than your first kiss to your last wish to the things that we can’t change.” But the true record killer is the bleeding-heart sophomoric inspiration of “Alone Tonight,” with true “did he really just feel the need to say that?” lyrics like “And now you’re staring at the sky…Your permission slip is signed that lets you feel alive. You hold your breath; I’ll hold your hand…Maybe one day we could even learn to stand.” The chorus sort of plods on about being alone and afraid without specifically saying anything about, well, anything, and on the whole, this is one that should probably have been left on the production room cutting floor.
But all this and more is atoned for in the amazing closer “The Reprise.” This is the kind of brilliantly emotive worship song that brings listeners into the presence of God. All of our fronts, all of our false priorities are forgotten. “My soul clings to you, my lips sing for you…My soul clings to you, my lips sing for you…” This song is beautiful in a way I cannot describe even before its defining moment: thirteen voices describe what hope is and how it defines their lives, culminating in a remarkable expression of God’s love and our desire for Him. If there were not even one other good song on this CD, I would pay retail to hear this one.
Let’s wrap this up. Have Kiros provided a legitimate introduction to themselves? Do they show they have something to offer the modern rock scene today? Absolutely. (Their live show only solidifies this.) But these days modern rock bands have rather short half-lives, and A Single Strand isn’t enough of an unqualified success to declare Kiros immune to this. The band must dump some of the lyrical cliches and find some way to capture the energy that courses through their live show on record. Meanwhile, there are enough highlights here to call the CD a pretty worthy purchase for fans of the genre, but I couldn’t fault readers who will hit up Amazon MP3 instead and spend a couple bucks on the highlights. A Single Strand is capable, certainly, but growth is needed before Kiros can create something truly vital.
Rating: 6/10 – Rather good, and if you like the genre, pick this up, but somewhat non-essential.
Standout Tracks: “Hold Your Breath,” “City Lights,” “Speak Softly,” “The Reprise”
RIYL: I honestly can’t think of anyone specific presently. Hit up the MySpace and listen.