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Album Review: TBA

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Album Review: Band Of Skulls - Sweet Sour

Southampton’s Band Of Skulls are a band on the cusp of something special. Their debut album, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, nicely egged on by a couple of impact single releases, took them to some exciting places, and this latest long-player is already receiving some high-profile attention. Radio 1 has been blasting out the promo singles on a regular basis and, tuning in, it’s pretty easy to see why.

A quick glance at bassist/vocalist Emma Richardson’s Rorschashian inkblot artwork, this time around, is your first indication that Sweet Sour is going to rock harder than their debut. It has developed into something far more sinister than the blossoming glory of their debut. I’ve fallen into her trap by assembling its imagery into either a dissected, bloodied chicken corpse or, possibly, an Alien facehugger about to impregnate the viewer. Whichever it is, she’s nailed the album title in one startling image.

Certainly, the top end of Sweet Sour is all about the crunch. Guitarist/vocalist Russell Marsden has said “We wanted to write material that’s primed for where we’d got to. Beefier songs for bigger stages”. They are certainly that, with tracks like ‘Bruises’ and ‘Devil Takes Care Of His Own’ loaded with lurching, grimy riffs that pepper the songs with crafty precision, the rhythm ensconced in a methodical structure of attack and release.

They may be pulling the now-familiar shapes of rock bands past, but they have avoided the trap of merely echoing the mould that bands like The Vines or Jet once slid themselves into. Instead, BOS simply refuse to pile it all into the mix at once. Rather, enigmatic gaps in the music are added, the tonal quality becomes a malleable presence, and the pace is slowed to a crawl. It’s this kind of skillful songwriting that bolsters the effectiveness of the repeated lines which become the addictive hooks to be nailed home. It’s rock with added nous: the kind last seen active in the inventive minds of The Black Keys and Nine Black Alps.

Take the the boom-boom-tiss and falling arpeggio string taps of the title track or the steady two-chord repeater-riff that pads its way through to the key hushed strapline of ‘Devil Takes Care Of His Own’. Think Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’ getting down and dirty with AC/DC’s ‘Back In Black’ and you’ll be half-way to understanding just how powerful these songs are.

Somewhat disappointingly, surrounding these top-end tracks lies a patchwork of hit and miss. ‘Wanderluster’ walks you down a dead-end of tentative echo and formulaic patterning before insulting you with a prosaic, posted-in chorus. ‘Lies’ crumbles beneath its own assuredness, circulating a couple of times before panicking and falling on the sword of brevity. Then, stepping back on the gas, they dredge up hints of The Subways with a soul-shaking groove, as memories of deliciously playful boy-girl harmonies are reignited, for ‘You’re Not Pretty But You Got It Goin’ On’.

The pace drops toward the album’s close, allowing the listener to sink back down within Band Of Skulls’ downier side. Tracks like ‘Navigate’, where Richardson beautifully steals the mic, ‘Hometowns’ and ‘Close To Nowhere’ all shift your perceptions of where this band fit in the wider scheme of things. Marsden recently nailed it with the words “Songs are your weapons. We’re the Swiss Army Knife of bands”. They can catch you napping with a real rocker like ‘Bruises’ or effortlessly disarm you with something like ‘Hometowns” whispered, yet super-sharp line “It’s just kids having more kids for fear of being alone” which comes from behind a veil of pastoral flute and gently tinkling stringwork.

As expected then, there’s some sweet and some sour; a description with a double meaning, applicable to both the album’s emphasis and its quality. Regardless of how fast the album grows and fades from your playlist, Band Of Skulls have cracked enough noggins here to really cause an industry ruckus. The countdown to lift-off has begun; twinkling in the distance, stardom awaits to receive them.

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