Businesses shift personnel internally without rewriting the company's mission statement all the time, so shouldn't musicians be able to do the same thing? Raleigh songwriter Jess Edison founded Once and Future Kings as a solo vehicle in 2005, but he quickly recruited the backing band that, in turn, quickly produced the earnest and promising debut EP, 2007's Emergent Sea. Soon after, though, Once and Future Kings changed shapes and slowed pace: That initial group ceded to a new unit—guitarist Rush Enterline, drummer Matt Austin, bassist Matt Robinson. This configuration produced 2011's more restrained Dead Lions EP and now its self-titled, full-length debut.
This collection belies the fits, starts and turnover of Once and Future Kings' past with an assured attitude, showcasing poise without forsaking that upstart conviction. Mixing anxious chamber pop and earnest indie folk, Edison has long attempted to balance the terse emotionalism of Bright Eyes with the spectral twang of Band of Horses; lineup changes have simply allowed him to refine the mix. The arrangements here give ample space to new member Kaitlin Grady's cello and find Edison somewhat swapping guitar for piano. Lyrically, the more pointed commentaries of the preceding EPs yield to more introspective concerns, built around Edison's suggestive style.
Despite the member swaps and the lengthy gaps between recordings, Once and Future Kings keeps close to its core; Edison has been reworking some of these songs since launching the project, while others here were penned quickly and collaboratively. As the band's roster has solidified and its process has grown democratic, its collective character remains an outgrowth of Edison's. The broader pop impulses don't sacrifice the scrap and urgency of OFK's indie folk origins. And as the band incorporates first-time elements—the post-punk undertow pulsing beneath the orchestral sway of "Candelabras," for example—OFK makes juxtapositions feel complementary.
Edison and his rotating cast have long juggled elegance and earnestness, an act this full-length debut continues. That consistency of vision carries this effort, boding well for the future of the mission.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Incremental gain."