Any good name has a good back story. Any strange name has the same one. Someone said something funny and it stuck. Commonly abbreviated as RKS, this North Carolina five piece outfit claims the name Rainbow Kitten Surprise proudly. With several members being a part of the LGBT community, love, acceptance, and religion all play into the lyrics of each album.
Since I last wrote about this group, they have played a packed show at the prolific Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, which sold out in less than a week. Pushing out more demos and recently rocking out for PBS at Austin City Limits in the fall of 2019, released this month.
Getting back to their roots, Lead Voice for the band, Sam Melo, began his songwriting in college, performing for his dorm block. Darrick Keller joined Sam in making the Mary EP together. Later, members Ethan Goodpaster, Jess Haney, and Charlie Holt joined the band ahead of the groups first album that was later paired with the debut EP as this weeks album, Seven + Mary.
Released in 2013 on Appalachian State University’s own Split Rail Record label, this album is composed of seven songs performed by the whole band and four tracks that came from Sam and Darrick’s EP the two recorded in a dorm room. This combo gives the album a signature feel that is noticeable throughout most the groups works where the album starts off very energetic and proud, then tails off with more stripped down tracks with a raw feel.
The first of the tracks from the original Seven album is “Fail!”, a track that feels striped yet filled-out all at once. With a consistent rhythmic bass guitar behind the thumping drums that are interrupted occasionally by a building snare, crash progression. Simple electric keys add a child-like innocence to the track.
“Mr. Redundant” has a more traditional piano key instrumental that are complemented by a more crashing drum sound. Sam Melo’s vocal theory here and in most songs is focused more on the harmonic aspect then the lyric convayment. In other words, He wants his sound to be heard more than his words. Something akin to Rhythm & Blues and Rap music that takes a fundamental role in this band.
The following song, “First Class” is on of the first tracks with a focus on acoustic guitar that doesn’t build until much later. Towards the one minute mark as we get to the chorus, we get another guitar and harmonious vocals that builds with all the members before the end of the first verse. Everything sort of resets at the beginning of the chorus and rebuilds until we’re back to the same choir sound.
The song I first came across from this group was “Devil Like Me”, a somber, stomp-and-clap kind of song with plenty of swaying grooves from Melo’s vocals. A song about both love and religion, it seems to embody and internal struggle for self-image, familial and romantic relationships. Other voices come in behind melo with a cacaughinous humming that fills out this contrast between the anthem-like rhythm and soft, groovy vocals.
Leaving the seven songs that make up the first half, “American Hero” carries every socially conscious lyricism and spacy aesthetics in a gritty, stadium rocking track that thumps the ground below you while peeling open the sky above you with echo and harmonies.
The first song off of the Mary side of this album, “All That And More (Sailboat)” is a fun, traditional sea shanty love song that sound plucked from the Pamlico Sound. Cheesy in some aspects, it sounds very authentic as well.
My favorite part of this EP is the way is shows how you can do so much with so little. Now without a doubt The Skills of Sam Melo and Darrick Kelly surely fill any cracks in this lineup of songs. It’s almost disappointing that these songs were never released on their own, but from another point, the contrast and cohesiveness these tracks have with the Seven album are even better.
The closer to this absolute music trip is “That’s My Shit”, a song that feels like a house party where you see your ex at, and the spiraling thoughts you have in the bathroom as you recollect yourself before going back outside to act fine. There is more raw emotion in this song than I have felt in some albums. On top of that, a thumping bass is added in some places while the harmony these two conjure feels religious in nature.
Not only is this album in my top ten for this last decade, but I cannot stop spinning this vinyl copy. The mastering on this is some of the best I have heard from a non-major label release. Like their latest release that I reviewed last summer, How To: Friend, Love, Freefall, there is little to no information on it other than a song list. No lyric list to sing along with which makes learning all the songs a more impressive task than most.