Chances are, most people don’t think of Oklahoma as a hotbed for psychedelic, atmospheric music. Places such as England and Iceland are reserved for that particular honor, but not the home of the Sooners, or so the logic goes. And yet, the state has been home to several acclaimed groups whose sounds head out from the Midwest and strive for the upper reaches of the atmosphere, with ethereal guitars, orchestral arrangements, and fragile vocals in tow. Groups such as The Flaming Lips, Ester Drang, Cheyenne, and now, Stillwater’s own Kunek.
The more critical and cynical among you might be tempted to dismiss the group as a Radiohead/Coldplay knockoff, and to be honest, there is ample support for that. Vocalist/pianist Jesse Tabish seems predisposed to the same sort of angst-ridden moaning we’ve come to know and love from Thom Yorke, and many of the melodies and song progressions do seem to exist somewhere in the space between OK Computer and A Rush of Blood to the Head.
However, what ultimately saves Flight of the Flynns, or at least gives the listener hope that Kunek will eventually step a little farther outside of the shadow of certain aforementioned groups, is the languid grace that the band imbues their music. The group spent six months recording the album by themselves in a country home right outside Stillwater. And that certainly seems to have freed them from any studio-borne constraints.
Flight of the Flynns moves through its 12 tracks in a slow and gentle manner. Perhaps a bit too gentle at times (as the latter moments of the disc can fade into the background), but nevertheless, this music drifts by with poise and confidence. And even when the music does get a little same-y in places, there’s some little delight — a short piano cascade, a cello swoop, some dancing vibes — that tugs on your sleeve and demands your attention once again.
The songs occasionally seem to be heading for a Sigur Rós-ish climax, with pounding drums and building layers of guitar, cello, and piano (“The Swell,” “Oh Noble Eric”). But just when you think Tabish is going to attempt a little Hopelandic of his own, the songs almost always pull back. Instead, they enter into graceful transitions that are all the more emotional for their gentleness (such as the beautiful Velour 100-esque segue from “Oh Noble Eric” into the album’s standout, “Section 2”). That, or they allow gorgeous little guitar filigrees and haunting piano melodies to shine forth that point towards deeper, more expansive places than the initial Radiohead comparisons could possibly have hinted at.
It’s finding these little delights, and then rediscovering them again (and again) that ultimately makes this album for me. And it makes me curious to see what this young six-piece are going to do on their next album, as they shake free from their influences and move towards the deeper, fresher sound hinted at so often throughout Flight of the Flynns.