The Raleigh quartet Once & Future Kings is actually the second iteration of that band. Jess Edison started Once & Future Kings in Nashville about five years ago, releasing the EP Emergent Sea in 2007 and summarily moving to Raleigh, where he built this new version with fresh members. Both the hiatus and subsequent restart pains are certainly to blame for Once & Future Kings' slim output—that five-song debut is now followed, four years later, by the seven-song, 26-minute Dead Lions, a release the band has dubbed a "short LP" and a "long EP."
These midlength presentations might be best for Once & Future Kings, at least until the band's palette expands beyond the earnest post-rock aims that shape both Emergent Sea and Dead Lions. This latest batch treads in the shallow waters between Radiohead and Explosions in the Sky, using pretty piano-and-guitar-laced textures to build into big rock codas time and again, especially on opener "20 Watts" and "This Goes On." They do it so often that the record feels somehow still, as though the action sits permanently in one pretty-but-punchy place.
Dead Lions' cool, measured musical approach mirrors Edison's focus as a songwriter (and, again, the piquant digital-era unrest of Thom Yorke, especially between 1997 and 2003). He relies heavily on societal anxiety, fretting inside a world of "21st censoring" and "tales of sadness and sin about the global position and carbon emissions." During the marching-into-the-abyss closer "I Drink From a Drip IV," he screams "I fast on pills and air," his echoes of Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack" coming over heavy drums and brazen piano chords. Again, like the music, it's all a tad obvious and monochromatic, but at least the band's point—screaming within a storm, or protesting modern predicaments—is a resounding and clear one, for better and worse.