Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Band of Skulls Album Review

It becomes apparent from the opening riffs and vocals of Band of Skulls’ album “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey” (Shangri-La Records) that hyper-production and grand arrangement are not idols for the trio from Southampton, England. In fact, the grinding start of “The Light of the Morning” evokes an empty stage the day after a festival – the live-ins on the festival grounds are all still passed out in their tents, the light morning sun still unable to penetrate their eyelids after their final-night bender. A reveille of guitar and lo-fi voice fills their ears, reminding the masses that they actually have to drive their old Jeeps and Buick junkers back to another life they left behind mere days before. That’s the ambience that came through my speakers when I let BoS’s debut album play from beginning to end. This album sounds like the start of something – the start of a new day, the start of a road trip, the start of a band’s career – whatever that something is, it sounds pretty good.

After the rusty-Tin-Man start that is “Light of the Morning”, BoS marches into White Stripes territory with “Death by Diamonds and Pearls”, but quickly escapes the readymade comparisons with the soothing “Honest” and the groove-chic “Patterns”. In fact, these two songs, though buried in the middle of the album, are vital to hearing the sonic profile of Band of Skulls. The “hey” shouts in the cool-hot-cool-hot “Hollywood Ball” are some of the highest parts of the record. Plus, the soaring choruses of “Impossible” keep some of the other tracks on the back end of the album from sagging too low into Black Keys-esque fuzz-grunge noise.

The vocals of Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson are worth mentioning. Each of them alternates between soulful and ghostly, their harmonies are distinctive, and when they play off each other in rapid-fire fashion (like in the verses of “I Know What I Am”) the strength of Band of Skulls becomes apparent – as a drum-and-guitar trio, they do so much with so very little. Their music is fairly basic in structure, but “Baby Darling Doll Face Honey” seems to be the poster child for the idea of “Less is more”. It sounds roughly cut, and in the days of auto-tune, it’s almost a blessing to hear. I’m intrigued for their second album to see if their sound becomes more elaborate, or if it will maintain the simpler set-up that they established on their debut. Time will only tell, but for now, I’m going to put “Impossible” back on and enjoy heat of summer.

RATING: 3.5/5 stars


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