In “The Merv Griffin Show” episode of Seinfeld, Kramer remarks to Newman: “We need a new format. We should shut down and retool,” after exhausting their roster of guests. To relaunch his apartment talk show, Kramer devises a new format: Scandals and Animals. Keep in mind this episode was from 1997, the same time period when tabloid talk shows like The Jerry Springer Show courted controversy and ridiculousness to increase ratings.
I mention the above as the same situation applies to today’s musical landscape where fledgling bands are quick to adopt the latest trends in search of a larger audience. The genre receiving the most imitation — and backlash — is the folk rock movement. One such act, Pawns or Kings, proclaims themselves as “a folk band who sound a bit like Mumford and Sons.” That they do, complete with banjos, beards and braces for their britches.
Hatched from prog-metal act The Race to Olvido, Pawns or Kings cast aside their reverence for acts like Dream Theater and Coheed and Cambria to embrace folk touchstones City and Colour, Glenn Hansard and the aforementioned Mumford and Sons, bands covered on Pawns or Kings’ 2011 debut, Letters to Lucy. On their latest release, Pomme de Terre, Pawns or Kings mythologize the geography of their home state of Missouri for mountain credibility. Where Letters to Lucy was a mix of covers and originals, Pomme de Terre is a collection of originals that displays the band’s current affection for radio-friendly folk with songs like “Light Over the Ridge” and “Late Have I Loved.”
Having adopted a fuller sound on Pomme de Terre, Pawns or Kings have moved beyond the stark originals on Letters to Lucy that mined the isolation of Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. The musical ability of the trio should not be questioned, as demonstrated on Pomme de Terre‘s instrumentals, “Weaubleau Creek” and “The First Rain (Interlude).” Where the band succeeds on its own merit is on the progressive leaning “Black Clouds (Troubled Man),” which speaks more to their origins than current influences.
Pawns or Kings would be best served by forging its own path rather than aping the genre du jour that one can only hope has a relatively short shelf life. If not, all the attention they seek will not come to fruition, leaving the band to once again retool.
Stream/download Pomme de Terre below.