Flyleaf, “Who We Are EP”

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Flyleaf broke my heart in October when they announced that Lacey Sturm would be stepping down as lead vocalist.  It was further shredded when they announced Kristen May (lead vocalist of the disbanded band Vedera) was going to be her replacement.  Then Ms. May made me sorry I had ever doubted her.

Flyleaf released a new EP on Tuesday, entitled “Who We Are.”  I use the term “new” lightly, because there’s only one new song on the EP, in addition to four live covers of the bands previous hits.  This was a pretty good strategy on the band’s part, because it gives the fans a chance to see how May can fill Lacey’s shoes, which, let’s face it, are about as big as shoes get these days.  It’s a good strategy, that is, if it works.  It’s a really gutsy move.  Do they pull it off?  Oh, do they.

I’ll start with the covers, because that’s really they are really the main point of the EP.  They’re saying “Look guys, Kristen can hang with us.  She’s not Lacey, but she’s got what it takes to fill her shoes.”  I do find it odd that four of the five songs are from New Horizons, as opposed to songs from their first two records, which would resonate more with fans.  The reason may be the difference of style between the two vocalists, which brings me to my first point.

Flyleaf as a whole is getting a little softer, and that’s reflected by the band’s choice of songs for the EP.  “Call You Out” is the only truly heavy song covered here, and “Broken Wings,” (which is perhaps the gutsiest call of all) Flyleaf’s softest and most heartfelt track, is present.  There’s a reason for this.  You won’t be hearing Kristen doing any of the screaming that we heard occasionally from Lacey.  Of the covers, “Call You Out” is probably Kristen’s weakest track.  Not to say she’s bad, but it doesn’t match how Lacey sang it, and it’s definitely not as strong as her presence on the other songs.  However, Kristen’s voice will give them a greater range of opportunities.

New lead singer Kristen May

New lead singer Kristen May

I thought it was exceptionally brave of the band to cover “Broken Wings.”  After all, the song is held by most fans to be Lacey’s goodbye song.  It’s akin to your stepmother reading a letter from your deceased mother.  You may have a great stepmother, but she isn’t your mom.  That’s probably what most fans will be inclined to feel like.  However, if they’re willing to listen, Kristen blows this one out of the park.  She’s able to do this because when she slows down and sings something a little softer, she has an incredible emotionally-charged voice.  Purely from a musical standpoint, she is way better suited for ballads like “Broken Wings” than Lacey was.  One YouTube commenter said what’s echoed in my mind: “This.  This might be okay.  My fave song and I’m okay.  This might work.”

Let me be clear: Kristen will never replace what Lacey was.  Lacey was and still is amazing.  The thing is, Kristen is too; she just is stronger in this area than Lacey was.  It’s just the same as Lacey is stronger in doing heavier stuff than Kristen was.  That probably also means the next album is going to be a bit softer to adjust for those differences, which brings me to the new song, “Something Better.”

The song fits Kristen’s voice very well, but comes across with a bit more of a pop flavor than any previous Flyleaf track.  It is evened out a bit by P.O.D. vocalist Sonny Sandoval’s guest appearance.  The two of them together make the song great, but I would have preferred to hear Kristen carry a song on her own for our first taste of their new material.  Nevertheless, it’s a good, positive song about making ourselves better people, and even hints at that being present in relationships (“Every time you take my hand, I become someone better”).

The slightly less heavy sound definitely fits Kristen better.  My fear is that they will go too far in that direction.  Ideally, they will keep the sound of New Horizons, still doing occasional heavy songs, but also throwing in a few ballads.  I’m hoping to have a couple songs like “Broken Wings” on their next effort.  Will that happen?  I’m not sure.  I am certain we will have a few ballads, but I fear the exclusion of the heavy sound we originally fell in love with.  Only time will tell.

Song Breakdown

Something Better – Kristen’s vocal exchange with Sonny is really powerful.  I’m not crazy about the more popish tune, but only because it’s a Flyleaf song.  To be honest, it’s pretty catchy.  That combined with the good message about making ourselves better people amidst a genre dominated by selfishness, revenge, and sexualization of women makes it a hard one not to like.  4/5

Call You Out (Live) – This is the heaviest cover on the EP, and is probably Ms. May’s weakest, vocally.  That said, it isn’t half bad, but I can’t help but compare it with the phenomenal job Lacey did with the original, which was one of my favorite New Horizon tracks.  It’s still good, but it doesn’t garner the same fist-pumping anthem reaction.  3/5

Fire Fire (Live) – Upon hearing this song, I really started to think this girl could live up to the high expectations placed on her.  Again, we probably won’t be hearing any throaty screams from her, but she’s got a powerful voice that can more than handle Flyleaf’s punchy choruses.  4/5

Broken Wings – It’s hard to pull off such an emotionally-charged song that was first delivered by someone else, but May does it with an expert’s touch.  Her sensitive yet strong voice in a live take is impressive to say the least.  This type of song will undoubtedly be her forte.  I’ve repeated it close to a dozen times (and counting) on Spotify since hearing it.  When a cover is that addicting, you know you’ve got a keeper.  5/5

Sorrow – I like the fact that they included a song from their first album.  Granted, this isn’t my favorite from the first album, but I do like the lyrics, such as “I’ll take his piece of you and hope for all eternity.”  Kristen’s voice is stronger on this song than “Call You Out,” and although not as heavy, shows that she can handle the heavy stuff.  4/5

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