Theodore singer, guitarist and songwriter Justin Kinkel-Schuster has always had more songs at his disposal than readily available releases with which to share them, so it's no real surprise that the Blood Signs EP has popped up as a solid in-between. The collection of five full-fledged songs and two snippets fills the gap between last year's career-best Hold You Like a Lover and, hopefully, another full-length later this year. The band recently signed with respected indie label Misra Records, and in a January interview with the Riverfront Times Kinkel-Schuster stated that both this EP and the next release "are (hopefully) manifestations of our desire to constantly out-think and outplay ourselves in every way, shape, form and sound." By that standard, Blood Signs isn't exactly a huge revelation at every turn: The experimental folk foursome still relies on singing saws, broke-down brass and spare acoustic guitars to prop up Kinkel-Schuster's tender and turbulent songs. Opening track "Abilene" has all the trappings of a typical Theodore tune, but that in-the-pocket feel helps the six-minute ballad float by like a dream.
After three thematically and musically consistent albums, this stopgap set (available on limited-edition ten-inch vinyl and via digital distribution) lets Theodore stretch its legs a bit. The 75 seconds of "Blues, Don't Murder Me" is the biggest curveball, a wordless beach-rock raver with chintzy keyboard melodies and stacked, cooing vocal harmonies that could serve as the music bed to a Yaris commercial. The electric guitars go into overdrive for the rockabilly stomp of "Engine No. 9 (No. 2)," which finds the singer channeling both Gene Vincent and Jello Biafra. Long-time fans will recognize a few of these cuts, particularly the lovely, forlorn "All I Ask," which has been a live staple, but here is recast with several emotional and orchestral crescendos. For those who think of Theodore as a dour, downtrodden Americana outfit (a complete but understandable misread of the band's talents), Blood Signs allows the group to cut loose from the constraints of overarching themes and to show some of the many styles the band keeps under its ever-growing umbrella.
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