December 07, 2010 - Shangri-La Music
Third albums frequently are coming-out parties for artists (OK Computer, Let It Be, Born To Run), so this EP prelude to the forthcoming Bruiser offers a potential peak into the future for intriguing British quartet the Duke Spirit. Now whether they’re likely to release an amazing third album is a valid question. While the ragged, bluesy bluster and ’90s alt-rock echoes of 2005’s Cuts Across The Land and 2008’s Neptune offer tantalizing promise, it’s not something they’ve fully seized.
Neptuneattracted some attention, and it’s a clearly much more polished release (too much so, some complained, lamenting the loss of its noisier neo-psych edges). However, while it’s a sexy (thanks to the sultry vocal strut of alto siren Liela Moss), propulsive album, the hooks don’t always gain traction. Like a glossy waiting room magazine, its surface charms don’t necessarily insure it’s coming home with you. That album’s best tracks (“Into The Fold,” “Send A Little Love Token”) were those that unleashed the guitars, as opposed to the more languorous, droning numbers, which almost all lacked the melodies to support their slumbering gait. Moss in particular seemed most effective with a little blood on her lips and a snarl in her throat.
Judging from this EP, we can probably expect more of the same, though their songcraft continues to sharpen. The lead track, “Everybody’s Under Your Spell,” comes in like Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones with a sinister guitar lick over woodblock percussion before breaking into a punky rave-up reminiscent of Pixies, with a screeching guitar lead. It’s a tad repetitive and the outro seems pretty superfluous, but in-between is some gnarly post-punk.
It’s accompanied by “Northbound,” a moody, textured ballad with a languid groove and more great guitar tones. It has a vague northern soul vibe, particularly in the piano-driven verses, and you can hear the band attempting to stretch their craft into something more romantic and epic. The music’s supple sway complements Moss’ low, dreamy vocals but is a bit inert. The swelling chorus, with its cry of “The fire of love sends you northbound” is pretty (with modest baroque touches and cooing background vocals), but again lacks a striking melody.
The third track is both the most intriguing and most forgettable. The upbeat bounce amidst fuzzed-out guitars recalls the Breeders, and Moss croons like Debbie Harry in the choruses, settling back into her breathy speak-sing on the verses. It’s a nice combination of elements, but they never really go anywhere with it.
Right now the Duke Spirit are a cool-sounding guitar band with a fascinating lead singer that are still learning how to writes songs that are not only stylish, but memorable. We’ll see about Bruiser, and hope that these were tracks that weren’t good enough for the album, rather than a teaser of what’s to come.