This image is from the official cover for “Grip Your Fist, I’m Heavenbound”

There’s something special about a debut album: It’s a band’s first chance to make a profound statement, and it has the chance to connect artists to a new and wider audience. The weight of this moment is not lost on Kingfisher, an Ann Arbor band releasing their first album Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound on Nov. 11. Though the band has only been around for a few months, it’s almost impossible to tell when listening to their music. Grip Your Fist is a remarkably mature album that captures the band’s outstanding musicianship and lays a strong foundation for the band’s future growth in the future.

One thing that immediately distinguishes Kingfisher is its size — the band is composed of eight musicians who are each integral to the band’s sound. One might expect such a large ensemble to have a boisterous and raucous sound, but outside a few tastefully executed moments on their debut album, that couldn’t be farther from Kingfisher’s style. Throughout Grip Your Fist, Kingfisher thrives with a delicate sound that forces listeners to notice the band’s intricate musical layers. The album begins in complete silence until the strings slowly fade in on a mysterious chord and the saxophone plays a sweet, simple melody. Across the remainder of the album’s brief intro track, the musical texture expands to encompass rich saxophone harmonies and powerful string backing that support the main melodic line. In this short introduction, Kingfisher foreshadows the rest of the album by showcasing the fullness and variety of their sound.

While strings and saxophone remain a fixture of the band’s sound throughout the album, they’re merely two tools in the band’s bottomless toolbox. On the album’s second track, “Annie,” the band creates a sense of longing by combining string chords with clean electric guitar, slide guitar and soft backing vocals. Lead vocalist Sam DuBose, a Music, Theatre & Dance senior has a great laid-back style that perfectly fits the song. “Annie” shows the band’s strengths in soft and subdued music making, but the following track “Reichenbach Falls” reveals yet another side of Kingfisher with its driving drums and playful trumpet and saxophone lines. Lyrically, DuBose’s imposition of human relationships onto nature-based imagery is highly effective and evokes the feeling of 2000s indie folk rock, but the nostalgia of the lyrics is perfectly counterbalanced by the band’s innovative, horn-heavy musical tone. 

Following “Reichenbach Falls,” Kingfisher again show their maturity with a gorgeous interlude that bears resemblance to the ambient works by fellow Michigan-rooted band Lord Huron, indicating Kingfisher’s admirable desire to push their music in as many directions as they can. Naturally, the next song, “Holy Hell,” unveils another change in style, building up from a soft piano ballad into a fiery rock instrumental that completely buries the lead vocals. Once again, Kingfisher powerfully highlights their flexibility.

The subsequent song “Snowing, all at once” starts off timidly, similar to “Annie,” but after an abrupt sample of a phone voicemail, changes gears and begins an explosive buildup on a simple lyrical refrain (“Won’t you keep me in your heart?”). The band proceeds to go back to their subdued sound on “Grip Your Fist,” which features breathtaking violin and saxophone lines, but is slightly undercut by a few awkward volume jumps. 

Through its final three tracks, the album closes strongly and leaves a great impression. “Regulate” features one of DuBose’s best vocal and lyrical performances in addition to high-pitched samples and heavy drums that shouldn’t fit with DuBose’s emotional performance but work surprisingly well. “Heaven Bound, Home” begins with a beautiful saxophone choir before heavy drums and a hypnotic chord progression kick in, which eventually subside as DuBose’s vocals take over. The album’s final track, “Do You Think I’m Pretty,” is easily the best song on the album, featuring a simple melodic idea that gets passed between saxophone, muted trumpet and voice while the guitar and strings create a mesmerizing backdrop on a melancholic chord progression. The song is the perfect ending to the album, combining Kingfisher’s strengths in soft and loud music and showcasing the band’s ability to seamlessly bridge the gap between these styles within a single song for incredible emotional effect.

Grip Your Fist, I’m Heaven Bound is an outstanding album that doesn’t need any qualifiers, but considering that it’s the debut release of a young band, this album is even more special. Kingfisher has shown that they not only have the means to create beautifully produced and texturally rich music, but that they have the ability to infuse raw emotion into their craft. With Grip Your Fist, Kingfisher has established itself as a thoughtful and innovative band that draws from musical traditions but is unafraid to take risks. Based on the strength of their debut album, this is just the beginning for Kingfisher. 

Daily Arts Writer Jack Moeser can be reached at jmoeser@umich.edu.