With The Kills putting out a new album, I figured it was time to cover this rather duo, the British guitarist Jamie Hince and American vocalist Alison Mosshart, who somehow make music that sounds totally new and old at the same time. They manage to grab riffs that feel familiar but are so off kilter that you have no idea why you have that tickle in the back of your brain when this is the first time you’re hearing the song. For folks not familiar with The Kills, the one song that might be familiar is U.R.A. Fever, it has been used in a number of movies including one of the best fight/fuck scenes from The Losers. There is a good reason that Jack White picked Alison to cover for him when he lost his voice and then later to be the lead singer in Dead Weather.
I’ve been lucky to be able to collect all of The Kills albums on vinyl except No Wow, their second album. I have to say that their kind of music works better on vinyl with its garage band sensibilities filtered through dark blues. Their debut album was Keep on the Mean Side (2003) and damned if they don’t do exactly that from the get go. The first song, Superstition, has an ending that is a combination of screaming guitar and Alison screaming. These songs rip right through you like bullets, leaving small holes when they go in and blowing out everything when they go out. To paraphrase Tina Turner’s intro to Proud Mary the song Kissy Kissy starts out bluesy and slow, then builds to something rough and nasty. This album is a kick ass way to come out of the chute.
As I said I don’t have the second album, No Wow (2005) on vinyl but I do have the download which is a bit cramped but still a fine album. They wanted to do a lot of it on an original Moog synthesizer but the darned thing crapped out just before they got to the studio so it was back to Jamie’s guitar. They took two weeks writing the songs and three to record them, so the album has a raw, almost live concert feel. There is also a different tone to No Wow. It’s tensely sexual, like two close friends who are teasing each other but have no intention of taking it any further because they know doing it wouldn’t be nearly as good as their imaginations. In fact I Hate the Way You Love is a pretty clear indicator. I’m working on getting this on vinyl because so far all of the albums have been superior on wax.
It was there their 2008 album Midnight Boom that got The Kills recognized and they became mainstream. The song Sour Cherry was used on the show Gossip Girls and U.R.A.Fever was used not only on The Losers as I said before but the movies Catch 44, Detention, and Welcome to the Rileys. Black Balloon was used on an episode of the The Good Wife.
Let’s get one thing straight, The Kills didn’t change or go commercial in the common nomenclature. They still played the same kind of low-fi, we’re going to play with you a bit then jam an icepick in your brain, kind of music. Sure the album is a bit cleaner, there isn’t the rambley voice pieces between songs that are on Mean Side or the odd jump cuts from No Wow but this is a pretty dark album. It has songs like Farewell My Black Balloon which is probably the most depressing breakup song ever (I swear our jet is crashing in my mind, you can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time.) Then there is their version of that inexplicable need that some people have to fuck crazy Cheap and Cheerful (I’m bored of cheap and cheerful, I want expensive sadness, hospital bills, parole, open doors to madness). Bouncy, fun song that is creepy as hell when you pay attention to the words.
There were more movies and TV shows to use the music from the 2011 album Blood Pressures but not as many. Future Starts Slow was the most used; in the Mark Wahlberg movie Contraband, as a trailer for True Blood, in the Political Animals miniseries, and Person of Interest. Damned If She Do was used in The Vampire Diaries and The Last Goodbye was used in Just like a Woman a movie with Sienna Miller. The general reaction to the album wasn’t as strong as the previous three and I kind of understand why.
It’s kind of somber. The tone is more restrained and while they haven’t stepped away from the elements that made them the strong duo they always were, this album isn’t really that much fun. The opening song, The Future Starts Slow just keeps the same pace throughout the entire song. No bullets here, it has an interesting enough sound but just not up to their usual standards. Heart is a Beating Drum starts out strong then seems to slow down and just pounds its way to the end. While I understand that is the point of the song, it seems most of the songs suffer from the same trait.
Which brings us to their new album Ash & Ice. The first copy I bought had some problems with the grooves being totally bollixed and there was even no fill on one side. If you haven’t any of my previous columns about the joys of buying badly pressed vinyl, no fill is when they pull the album before it has cooled properly and there are beads of vinyl in the grooves. They pretty much make your album unplayable at worst and make nasty hissing sounds at best. However, as I have said before the LRS owner is truly awesome and replaced it without question. So without question support your local record stores and thank you again, Steve at Obsessions.
One of the things that came out of having to exchange Ash & Ice was downloading the album just to have it on hand while I waited for the MND to work his magic. When you listen to a song like Hum For Your Buzz, so heavy on Allison’s vocals that it creates a personal space wrapping around you, having the music on vinyl makes the difference between that space being warm and welcoming or the electronic where you’re in one of those modern houses in Architects Digest, cold and sterile.
They said in interviews that the album was going to be different from their previous work and I can hear that. There is more production in the songs, they have the slower feeling of Blood Pressures but with the changeups of No Wow. There is more electronic tricks and overlapping, with songs like Whirling Eye but songs like Bitter Fruit still have their old blues feeling. My personal favorite is Impossible Tracks, which feels like a nice mix of their new and old styles.
The Kills have managed to create with five albums quite a fine discography that are worth being in everyone’s collection. I recommend investing in first three to start with and of course getting them on vinyl, after that pick up Ash & Ice, then Blood Pressures. This is a band I will be looking forward to anything new they are making.