Do not try to compare this Kristen May fronted incarnation of Flyleaf with the pre-2012 Lacey Sturm version. You will likely be disappointed. This is a completely different band, despite the only change being in vocalists. This band, who also happens to be called Flyleaf, plays radio-friendly alt pop rock.
Kristen assumed lead vocal duties after breaking up with her previous band, Vedera. Kristen’s voice reminds me of a blend of Taylor Swift, Gwen Stefani, and Fireflight’s Dawn Michele. Unfortunately, she seems to stay within a rather narrow range, giving much of her singing a piercing quality and making extended listening a bit of a chore. She does attempt to give these songs some of the trademark Flyleaf grit, but her voice is too pretty and clean to effectively pull it off.
Between The Stars shows a band fully invested in their new lead and trying to adapt to her strengths and personality, just as Lacey was their former heart and soul. Unfortunately, whether they are still adapting or they are who they want to be, they decided to play it safe for the most part. This music would have been fresh in the late 90s, but by now we’ve heard it a hundred times and sung better. What particularly struck me was how lifeless and plodding James Culpepper’s drumming is throughout. He sounds as bored playing as I felt listening.
There are a few bright spots on this album, starting with the first song. “Set Me On Fire”. An emotional alt rocker, heavy on the distortion, about the passion of young love. Pat Seals gets a nice bass line in “Magnetic”. “Sober Serenade” plays around with some fast atmospheric strumming ala U2. I’ll definitely give them points for “City Kids”, a nostalgic, bittersweet, emotional song about teenage hopes and dreams. The mostly quiet, plaintive vocals make the occasional, visceral background screams that much more jarring. The only problem is the screams are oddly-timed and sound like they’re from three rooms away.
The Taylor Swift aspect of Kristen’s voice is particularly evident on “Head Under Water” and “Blue Roses”. Whether intentional or not, the latter is very much a country song, which is certainly not what one expects when listening to even this version of Flyleaf. The song is well-written and performed, assuming you like that style of music, but it doesn’t belong here.
This is an album of love songs–young love, lost love, saving love, passionate love, unrequited love. It’s evident a lot of heart and emotion went into writing them. Unfortunately, musically, there’s not much to grasp on to, and Kristen’s singing can be exhausting to listen to. With more time together I hope this group will grow in confidence and be willing to take more risks. Regardless, the name Flyleaf now means something entirely different than it once did.