By Zach Collier
The brainchild of lead singer Emmett Florence, Kindred Dead has slowly been building buzz over the past year. Originally playing under the name Stylo, they made their debut as Kindred Dead in January of 2014.  By April, they’d recorded an early version of their song, “I’ll Come Around” with producer Chance Clift. By Summer 2014, Kindred Dead was performing alongside notable Provo acts like Static Waves, Brumby, and Mimi Knowles.
Exactly a year later, Kindred Dead was ready to record their studio debut. Their official Indiegogo Campaign launched on January 1, raising $2,070 dollars in a month and surpassing their original goal.  They headlined their own show at Velour in March. By April, they’d received the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to open up for Parachute at BYU’s end of semester concert. The concert sold out.
Sadly, Kindred Dead lost some major steam. With the recording process taking longer than they thought it would and their schedules becoming increasingly more busy, the band broke. In a Facebook post, Florence let fans know what was going on behind the scenes, announcing the departure of bandmates Travis, Tanner, and Scott. In the same post, Florence promised to continue recording, ending with a simple declaration: “We won’t disappoint.”
The EP was ultimately released on October 16, 2015. With that background information and promise in mind, let’s examine their work. How good is Nowhere to Go but Up?
The short answer? Very good.
Now for the long answer.
The production on this album is top notch. Kindred Dead was pretty loose with their demo sharing early on, posting links to recordings that weren’t representative of the quality of their songwriting. This EP makes that abundantly clear. Kindred Dead has improved a ton.
Emmett Florence has vision. He’s obviously taken the time to study the songwriting styles of his favorite artists. As a lyricist, he knows how to craft memorable hooks. He also knows how to write intriguing verses that provide depth and narrative imagery. Check out this line from “I’ll Come Around.”
“I’ve been to the place where they say I’ll be buried // It’s not much to look at but there I will lie.”
I was impressed by the delivery of this line. Florence delivers it as if he’s calmly submitting to the inevitability of death. I was also impressed by the implications of the second half of it. No matter how well we dress up our headstones, all of us will be buried in the same, humble earth (or scattered around it if you prefer cremation). Death is the great equalizer.
But I digress. Suffice it to say that the lyrics throughout this EP are well crafted.
The opening track, “It’s Not Over,” is a dubstep infused slow rocker with the synthesized version of X Ambassadors claps. It does a good job at building tension and providing a pay off through the first chorus, but starts to get a little old during the second verse and chorus. I think that stems from the near constant sub synth bass presence throughout the entire song. If that were to, say, drop out in the second verse, you’d start to miss it and love it when it came back in. Instead, it wears out its welcome.
The bridge, however, provides that much needed break. It builds steadily until the song erupts into a final chorus with a WICKED guitar solo. Seriously 2:54-3:08 seconds is what gives this song a good grade in my book. The guitar keeps jamming until the end, providing some wonderful variation as it transitions and becomes a layer. It’s great. Solid opener.
The title track steals the show. “Nowhere to Go but Up” is equal parts American Authors, Provo-era Imagine Dragons, and rolling Charli XCX synth bass. I really don’t have much to say about this song other than it’s absolutely exhilarating. Everything is youthful, optimistic, energetic, and fun. It’s a shame it was released in October – this track should have been the soundtrack to last summer. It’s great stuff.
I’ve already spoken a little too much about how much I love the lyrics to “I’ll Come Around,” so I’ll be brief. This song drives me nuts because I can’t figure out what it reminds me of. It’s definitely something from 00’s radio. Anyway, it does a nice job of interweaving a moving synth part around a fantastic guitar riff. There’s some exposed bass at 0:30 that sounds fat and warm. Drops like 1:32 keep things fresh, and interesting production effects like the blips, stutters, and muted guitar strums between 1:40 and 1:58 totally make that build interesting and inventive. This song is solid and has really come along way since the demo posted in April 2014.
“Easy On the Eyes” isn’t my favorite track on the album and the only one that comes up short. Florence delivers the vocals like a mix between Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Adam Young of Owl City. The vocal melody is very Brandon Flowers esque. None of these things are bad things – Florence is at the top of his game here. My biggest issue is with the overall arrangement of the track. The effect on Florence’s voice is very Killers-esque, reminiscent of the effect on Flowers’ voice in “Glamorous Indie Rock ‘n Roll.” The song tries to do what The Killers’ “My List,” “Goodnight, Travel Well,” or “Be Still” do, minus all the artistic sensibility and tiny intricacies that made those songs so great.
There are some moments where Kindred Dead gets it right, like at 1:32 when the vintage string part comes in. But it’s robbed of its beauty by an incessant, distorted sub synth bass. Indeed, “Easy On the Eyes” suffers many of the same problems that “It’s Not Over” does. They’re only exacerbated by the slow tempo and overall exposed nature of the track. The song isn’t bad, but it’s not good either. In my mind, I hear a much better accompaniment to that wonderful vocal line, and I wish with all my heart that I could hear that version of the song in real life.
Overall, though, Kindred Dead was right. Apart from the final track, Nowhere to Go but Up does not disappoint. In many ways, it exceeds expectations. I was pleasantly surprised and so taken by the 2nd and 3rd tracks that I instantly became a Kindred Dead fan. Is it too soon to start using the term “Dead Head” without being taken for a Grateful Dead fan? If not, call me a Dead Head. Long live Kindred Dead.
One reply on “Album Review: Nowhere to Go but Up EP by Kindred Dead”
[…] Dead’s music. Earlier this month we reviewed their self-released debut, Nowhere to Go but Up (read the review here) and found it to be a thoughtful, well produced […]