Hush Hush: Wherein the St. Louis-via-Edwardsville band marries its bluesy barroom blitzes with a cinematic scope. For its third full-length, the quintet remains clouded in cigarette smoke and dark-tinted glasses, but there's a touch of the auteur with how the album is assembled. Take, for instance, the 45-second "Theme for No One," which introduces "Love the Lonely" with a bit of spacious mood music. The "Paper Flowers" suite is more ambitious: The triptych is spread out throughout the album and presented in reverse order, opening with a piano-and-Mellotron vignette that owes a little to Frank's Wild Years-era Tom Waits. It's a disparate form of storytelling for a band that prefers a bash-'em-out style of song craft (and there's plenty of that on Hush Hush), and the bookends of the album find singer Jason Holler turning his twangy yelp into an intimate whisper. That delivery, paired with the hillbilly-noir ambience the band has more or less trademarked, shows the marks of growth that weren't readily evident on last year's "Misshapen Love" / "Love the Lonely" 7-inch (both of those tracks appear here). By the time the stabbing cellos kick in at the end of "Paper Flowers One," the movement feels complete.
As mentioned, there is plenty of Kentucky Knife Fight's trademark boogie and swagger alongside its more art-directed interludes. The punctuated boogie of "Father" might be the best of the bunch here, showing a band that can inject a little looseness and rock song dynamics. A breathless coda finds Holler spitting a recurring quatrain as the band hammers away in the background. Guitarists Curt Brewer and Nate Jones remain sonic foils on most tracks, with one offering spindly leads and the other handing out big, brash strokes. "Love the Lonely" mines this interplay especially well, treading some intersection of jazz, blues and classic rock tropes. The title track picks up some of the languor from "Lonely" and turns it toward a more straight-ahead rocker, with some greasy organ filling in the cracks. Hush Hush is the album that the band needed to make; it doesn't abandon Knife Fight's core sound but widens the lens with a greater focus on storytelling and mood setting.