Published Mar 16, 2016Fan or not, anyone familiar with Dustin Kensrue's activity over nearly two decades ought to know that the Thrice frontman and more recent soloist is an exceptionally talented musician. And while all-cover albums and live recordings may often be an interesting but ultimately inessential extra in an artist's catalogue, worth the attention of devoted fans but not necessarily the casual listener, Thoughts That Float on a Different Blood is a hauntingly beautiful record that's much more than the sum of its parts.
Recorded live during two shows at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana, California last December, the 35-year-old singer-songwriter's latest solo album features a diverse selection of fresh takes on existing songs in a raw and intimate performance featuring only an acoustic guitar. The resulting cuts are pleasantly familiar at worst, and breathtaking at best.
The first standout on this ten-song collection is his version of Brand New's "Jesus" (aka "Jesus Christ"), one of the most beloved songs by a band that's worshipped among the same generation that brought Thrice to fame. It's impossible to say Kensrue did the song better, but it's honestly close. The same goes for most of these covers, whether it's the emotionally potent rework of an older classic like "Round Here" by Counting Crows or "Down There by the Train" by Tom Waits, or a stunning overhaul of a present-day pop hit like "Buzzcut Season" by Lorde or "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus (an honest-to-god standout on the album). Kensrue cuts deep down to a song's bones, taps into its heart, and gives it new blood.
These covers prompt a few observations. Firstly, Kensrue knows what makes a good tune, and how it can become a whole new song that's rousing both in its unique delivery and sentimental familiarity. Secondly, he has a voice that can carry an entire album. He belts out lines and pulls them back swiftly and expertly, waxing and waning between a bold, hearty cry and a gentle, fragile whisper. (See his take on "Creep" by Radiohead for an exemplary performance that doesn't go unnoticed by his audience.) Thirdly, he simply has great taste in music. You've heard most of these songs before — but you've never heard them quite like this. (Vagrant)