Silver Tongues – “Black Kite” (2011, Karate Body)
Louisville’s hidden treasure Silver Tongues, and their debut album Black Kite, serve as a glorious throwback to classic rock bands, where a debut album could freely experiment by dabbling in multiple genres. Today’s bands so frequently have to hit the ball out of the park on the first try and then repeat the success or fail to gain traction in the business, but Silver Tongues seem to take pleasure in twisting listeners’ expectations. There’s nothing taken for granted, and it’s not as if the band’s taking unnecessary risks with their musical direction. They’re just willing to admit that, when a band’s getting its feet wet, sometimes there’s nothing more valuable than pushing the envelope and trying a variety of sounds. And with an independent label backing them up, it’s a safe bet they’ll get the chance to build their musical reputation on their own terms. This is the work of a band which may not find its “hit” until a third or fourth album, but give them that time to grow and the rewards will be immesurable.
Not that I’m saying their songs aren’t worthy of wide exposure, because that would be a mistake. “Wet Dawg” sounds like Kings of Leon if they actually dared to let a song speak for itself rather than burying the lead in a mess of pseudo-pop trappings. What makes it clear Silver Tongues is worth supporting is their ability to transform the song into an addictive live gem. I was lucky enough to catch the band live at Headliners in Louisville back in January and, even as a co-opening act playing before the supposed “big draw,” they immediately roped the crowd in with a live performance which showcased the music above the hype. There’s plenty of pop hook buried in there to keep the songs reverberating in your head, but that the band’s out there working the road and building these songs in a live setting as well proves they’re not happy merely letting the studio versions speak for themselves.
Speaking to the album’s quality, however, is the fact that every song plays its role in the cohesion one finds immediately appealing about Black Kite. “Warsaw” would be perfectly at home on a Coldplay album, with its frantic string backdrop, but the vocals are pure seventies classic rock, with layered harmonies and an arrangement coupled with a slow-build climax which is immediately accessable and repeatedly listenable. The album’s opener, “Highways,” has an unforgettable backdrop of organ drone and handclaps-meet-bass-drum percussion, providing a thunderous reason to immediately fall in love with what the band has to offer. And the album’s title track, “Black Kite,” and the beautifully melodic “Hope For” manage to successfully bridge the gap between bands like Mumford and Sons, with the ethereal vocals and simple acoustic arrangements, and today’s more modern pop-leaning bands where the hook comes first above all else.
The result is a nine-track album which plays well both as a coherent, well developed debut and a template for a band willing to push its exploratory envelope in pursuit of a long-term career. Black Kite came out too late in 2011 to make my list of best albums of that calendar year, but it has already won a place in my heart as one of the most interesting efforts I’ve heard during this one. I expect to hear big things from this band; like the Black Keys before them, they seem destined to build a respectable basis for long term success on their early indie records. And with the right push, they’d seem poised to have a similar mainstream breakthrough once their material has time to develop to its full potential. Put simply, Silver Tongues is a keeper, and their impressive debut has legitimate heft and staying power. You won’t want to miss it!