Rainbow Kitten Surprise – How to: Friend, Love, Freefall
By Amal Qazi
Rainbow Kitten Surprise, the 5 person indie rock band from North Carolina fondly known by fans as RKS, released their most recent studio album in 2018, following the success of their second and self titled album in 2015. The newest album, How to: Friend, Love, Freefall, is made for head-bobbing and toe-tapping, with lyrics to wrap yourself in and sing along to while surrounded by your closest friends.
The group has gathered quite the fanbase with previous releases, most likely to the shock of anyone who hadn’t already heard of them. The band sounds fake, like a fictional work within another fictional work, a supposed band that supposedly plays supposed music. Rainbow Kitten Surprise is a pleasant surprise to new listeners, the musical equivalent of jamming random jigsaw pieces together and finding that they, in fact, fit. RKS uses infectious rhythms, guitar lines that’ll burrow themselves into your psyche, and hard hitting drums all to support… rap. Well, maybe not rap, but definitely not just singing. Slam poetry maybe? Whatever you want to call their style, they’ve figured out some strange niche that they somehow make work, and the music world is all the better for it.
How to: Friend, Love, Freefall is a lovely point of development for the group, being the most cohesive album in their 8 year career. Their freshman album, Seven+Mary, certainly had potential, with a personal favorite, “Mr. Redundant”, and hit “Devil Like Me”, but ultimately began to blur together as 40 minutes of the same drum-clap acoustic drone. 2013 album RKS saw improvement, being less forgettable than its predecessor with the fantastic guitars of “Wasted” and popular track “Lady Lie”. How to: Friend, Love, Freefall took the best parts of the previous albums and made them whole, with each track able to stand on its own two feet rather than being lost in the outcome.
The album opens with “Pacific Love”, an acapella clip reminiscent of the vocal style and folksy tunes of Fleet Foxes. Though devoid of the guitar and drums that one expects to fill an RKS tune, it opens the listener’s mind for the emotional turmoil to come and gives easy access for the next song to slip right through.
With “Mission to Mars” we see the first reference to God to set the stage for an album’s worth of religious, and more specifically Christian, imagery. RKS is certainly no stranger to religious allusions, due to lead vocalist Ela Melo’s childhood growing up in the Caribbean with a missionary father, surrounded by spirituality in all forms, inseparable from music and life itself. Though religion is a large part of RKS as a whole, finding its way into almost every one of their songs, instead of being polarizing and unappealing to listeners not interested in this kind of imagery in music, it makes the album that much more interesting. This is perhaps best exemplified in “It’s Called: Freefall”, where Melo describes conversations with the Devil as though the Devil is a begrudging businessman just trying to do his job. RKS always manages to paint such a picture that the average person has no choice but to succumb and indulge in what they’re offering.
Each song holds a weight that can punch the listener right in the gut, put a lump in their throat, and then spin them right into the need to dance. “Hide”, a song written about coming out, holds a heartfelt verse where Melo sings softly to her mother about her partner shortly before leading into a last verse that when combined with quick and upbeat drums makes you want to scream into the sun and sob tears of joy and relief. This same combination of sucker punching listeners with emotions shows in the first line of “Painkillers” where Melo opens with “very lovely morning, try not to kill yourself today”. This song takes a mellow tone while retaining the twangy instrumentals present throughout the album, singing about addiction and pleading for self destructive listeners to think about all the things they’d be missing before letting themselves give in.
The album ties together with the ending song of “Polite Company”, perhaps a callback and parallel to “Shameful Company”, a track off their 2013 album, Seven + Mary. “Polite Company” mostly leaves their drums and guitars behind, even polished studio production, and instead opts for a simple piano to back Melo’s vocals. The echoes, along with a few coughs and indecipherable dialogue here and there give the impression that this last performance is truly friends just playing amongst and for each other, winding down and softening up to let the listener down easy.
How to: Friend, Love, Freefall takes the listener on a journey with the band, allowing them to become even more themselves than ever before. Rainbow Kitten Surprise is carving their way into the musical stratosphere, and if this album is any indication, it looks like they’ll be making quite the name for themselves, with their fans cheering them on every step of the way.