If there were a war for Milwaukee’s most affable band—an exceedingly polite and well-mannered war, mind you—the victor would undoubtedly be Soul Low. On 2013’s excellent UNEASY, the young group offered up eight tracks of jittery, joyous indie rock shot through with David Byrne-levels of nervous energy, all while maintaining a fresh-faced image that wouldn’t be out of place on a college recruitment poster. One part Vampire Weekend and one part Modest Mouse, Soul Low was a band that was easy to love. That remains true on the new Kind Spirit EP, a four-song jaunt that finds Sam Gehrke, Jake Balistrieri, Charlie Celenza, and the impeccably mustachioed Sean Hirthe continuing their genre-bending exercise in musical good-naturedness. It’s half the length of UNEASY, but manages to pack in nearly twice the charm.
Soul Low’s willingness to stretch into unexpected territory is exemplified by leadoff track “Heard It All Before,” featuring a winning guest appearance from rapper WebsterX. Switching gears between a jazzy, downbeat verse and a driving, hard-nosed chorus, the song provides a perfectly unsteady vehicle for WebsterX’s unpredictable flow, which never feels grafted on or superfluous. “Blatz Beat” injects some levity into the proceedings, with a slinky and celebratory ode to the classic brew. It’s Kind Spirit’s lightest moment (and Soul Low’s funniest song to date), but the final two tracks sum up the EP best. Closer “Two Years/Two Weeks” plays like a hyper-charged Radiohead freak-out aimed at love both unrequited (“Why can’t I tell you I love you / I know that I love you / I feel like I love you”) and uncertain (“I don’t know where I’ll be in two years or two weeks / But I’ve got you now”). The title track, meanwhile, is a sorrowful, horn-accented tale of outdated phone contacts and sad-sack Facebook stalking. Though relatively straightforward, it’s a quiet, unassuming highlight.
All told, Kind Spirit offers a glimpse of a more refined version of the willfully messy Soul Low introduced on UNEASY. What remains is thrown into sharp relief: the group’s malleability, its refusal to conform to tried-and-true song structures, and its penchant for moments of unexpected grace. Oh, and its unaffected and unassailable nice-guy image, which, even in the face of heartbreak and loss, remains intact.
Soul Low are currently on tour, but will return to Milwaukee Thursday, January 22 for a show at Linneman’s featuring Whips, The Fatty Acids, and Jamaican Queens. Videos for all four of Kind Spirit’s songs can be seen here.
- "Kind Spirit"
- “Blatz Beat”
- “Heard It All Before”