I actually paid money for Cassino’s sophomore “disc” (I downloaded it), which meant that I would have been quite disappointed if it didn’t deliver. My first reaction was, “Man, the songs they redid sure are terrible,” which didn’t change after many more listens. “The Ice Factory” closed Sounds of Salvation with a surprising piano ballad whose best moments were the piano solos. The version on Kingprince sounds like a much lesser band playing a cover in a Tennessee saloon. They traded in the poignant piano moments for a repetitive beat and a Hootie and the Blowfish-esqe electric guitar. SOS’s “The Gin War” was a shape-shifting ode to choruses, showcasing Torres’ greatest gifts of melody, lyrics, and performance. Kingprince’s remake is a slow-moving, climax-lacking, lower-pitched, sleepy version of a once great pop song. “Boomerang,” on the other hand on SOS was skippable and forgettable, and retains it’s boring repetitiveness on Kingprince.
So why do I like this album so much? Well, the guy’s voice and cryptic, hard to understand lyrics (lines like, “a circus noose/another month and the golden goose/that I'll be squeezing forever”) are worth the price of admission alone, so the true test for their sophomore album would be if the music and songwriting would be interesting and enjoyable enough to provide a vehicle for the vocals. Kingprince absolutely passes this test and Torres’ songwriting shines is new and exciting ways, always giving the listener what he wants without compromising the style that Torres has been honing for four albums now.
They are always keeping the ear busy. The fingerpicking on “Maddie Bloom” propels the song forward and the violin accentuates the wooden sound of the guitars. Their new sound seems to consist of acoustic guitars up front with traditional non-electric instruments like harmonica, violin, organ, standup bass, and percussion in the background. The violin solo in the middle of this 6:19 slowjam is downright delightful, but the song doesn’t reach a voice-straining peak like the best hits of the Nick Torres collection often do. But that’s the case with every song on the album. And yet, I am still hung up on the beauty of the instruments and the simplest, but most affecting moments of Kingprince, like the first time you hear the quiet 5th and 6th string-only guitar jangling
just after the first minute of “Ghost,” and then he belts out the chorus you’d been waiting for the whole album.
“Cannonball” is the one. The song rocks steadily between two chords (mostly), and other-band-member Edward Puckett provides just about the catchiest, coziest, familiar-yet-refreshing violin line possible at that moment in the song, then continues the magic throughout the next verse. The harmony over the line “I have worked my body so thin” is the icing on the cake, as Torres has successfully crafted a singable, relatable denouement that the listener can take away from the song.
Oh, instrumentals, why do you bother? “Debrickashaw” is a throwaway with nothing memorable enough to match a song with vocals. Opener, “Djom” (a title which the audience is apparently not supposed to know how to pronounce), proceeds mysteriously through heavily reverberated harmonicas into heavily reverberated vocals and guitar, and has the balls to sustain its two chord pattern throughout, relying on it’s simplicity to sell the song, which it does. “The Levee” slowly builds up to an intense two-guitar fingerpicking contest, where the other instruments seem to be egging on each guitarist to play more furiously than the other. Finally, “The River” closes the album with the bread and butter that substantiates my theory that all Torres really needs to win over the listener is a guitar and a microphone.
Kingprince is so very Nick Torres that it’s polarizing. This album is for fans of Sounds of Salvation for sure, and if you, like me, are rooting for him to succeed, you’ll probably get a lot of great listens out of it. His signature sound is still there, and he’s getting more comfortable in folk’s skin. We’re lucky we’ve gotten this much music out of him, let’s just hope there’s more to come.
Recommended if you like: Cassino - Sounds of Salvation, Owen - At Home With...