The first time I heard “Curious Hands,” I had no idea how to process it.
I had first fallen for Kuinka in their earlier branding as Rabbit Wilde, the name under which they’d released two LPs of infectious bluegrass-inflected folk very much in the mold of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. I quickly wore out those albums, and so when the band announced a new EP, I could not have been readier for more of the same.
Instead, I got something completely different. From the opening moments that blend strings with eerie percussive synths, the band now known as Kuinka charted themselves a brand-new path, shaking off comparisons to the Lumineers in favor of being comparable to nobody but themselves.
Wait, I thought, I liked what they were doing before! What is THIS? But as the song took root in me and demanded I listen to it again, and then again, and then non-stop for days, it quickly fell into a pantheon with so many of my favorite works of art, the ones that had to teach me how to experience them because they were playing by rules I’d never encountered.
Sometime within the past five years or so, the general public seemed to lose their taste for pop-folk, a precipitous market shift that left Mumford & Sons scrambling to change their sound so thoroughly (and unsuccessfully) that they inadvertently made it seem like they might have never had a particularly strong aesthetic core.
What Kuinka did with “Curious Hands,” and the rest of the Stay Up Late EP, is not so much change as evolve. Though the sonic palette is new, this is unmistakably the same band expanding their horizons. It’s a song that continues to unfold and reveal itself with every spin, a soaring and complex anthem that ends with a sudden shift into a refrain you can’t help but shout along to. There’s something so infectious about the moment that both band and audience realize what they’re capable of and take that leap. With “Curious Hands,” and their first national tour (I will never forgive myself for missing their recent stop in Boston), Kuinka has decisively announced themselves as one of the most exciting bands of their generation.
(Song recommendation by Ethan Warren)