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The Kills
Blood Pressures Tom Killingbeck , April 8th, 2011 11:51

After the demise of the White Stripes, there's a gap in the mass market for a male/female duo peddling carnal lo-fi rock & roll. It's been three and a bit years since The Kills released Midnight Boom, and it's not a stretch to imagine that the band's sound will have been affected by their particularly frenetic interim. Alison Mosshart was recruited by the prolific Jack White to take part in his heavy psych project The Dead Weather, in which she proved that as a frontwoman she could easily and dynamically overcome the macho blues-riff swagger of her colleagues with wild and passionate vocals. Meanwhile, Jamie Hince was getting stalked by the paparazzi back in London, where he was romancing Kate Moss.

The Kills were born during the heady days of the early millennium and the so-called 'garage rock revival', a preposterous term considering that garage rockers have ceaselessly plugged away since 1965, and, when Gaddafi eventually finds some uranium, freaks out and unleashes nuclear war, there'll doubtless be several tiresome 'The' bands tuning up in the atomised wilderness. At first it seemed they might be another couple of chancers on the bandwagon, so affected seemed their Herrema and Hagerty heroin chic. But Mosshart and Hince (or 'VV' and 'Hotel' as they for some reason like to be known) have survived the hype, and this fourth album should be bolstered by Mosshart's experience on the road with a hard-working, all-cylinders band, while Hince should have more than enough lyrical material from punching photographers and living the high life back home.

The opener, 'Future Starts Now', bodes well, with its rattling drum intro and drug-addled guitars slicing and dicing, assuring us that the duo are still the scuzzy rats we got to know on their first record, rather than respectable industry names. Blood Pressures was recorded in the Key Club Recording Studio in the Michigan, where both No Wow and Midnight Boom were put to acetate. With Hince still claiming production duties, the duo's sound is very much their own, decadent, minimal and blues-orientated, with the guitars in particular feeling very freeform, atmospheric, and depraved. 'DNA', released early on the band's website, is classic Kills; Mosshart purr vs. Hince's memorably spiky melody. But while the template is still definitely in place, there are surprises.

Mosshart's voice has been enhanced by her time in The Dead Weather, still snarling but all the more confident and clear. This new-found assurance is showcased in piano ballad 'The Last Goodbye.' It's remarkable, in that The Kills of the early 2000's would never be suspected to be capable of anything remotely like it. With its swelling strings and naked vocal performance, it almost sounds like the curtain call of some low-rent rock & roll musical. It's a far cry from the Lou-Reed-vicious drum machine punk that they used to peddle straight. It's also a telling signifier of how far the band has come in terms of songwriting; there are plenty of other moments on the record where the duo reveal that they're not afraid to unmask their pop side from beneath its shroud of Royal Trux/Suicide weird cool.

Single 'Satellite' rides on a soulful wordless chorus and a gunslinging riff, while 'Baby Says' is a sped up Velvetsy pop song, a simple, catchy shared vocal line floating on a simple backing of handclaps, dissected drum textures and wraithlike stabs of electric guitar. Closer 'Pots and Pans' sadly isn't a Les Savy Fav cover, but similarly lays things bare, with (Rolling) Stoned country swagger played acoustically, interrupted half way with storming reverb-drenched chords and Mosshart's repeated chant “These are the days we'll never forget / When the dawn dawns on you” taking the record to a climactic finish. The band have lifted the self limiting lo-fi constraints here, focusing on writing tight pop songs, but not at the expense of their distinctive sound.

It could have felt like The Kills were becoming the side-project in Mosshart's career, after her success as Jack White's newest foil. But Hince admirably steps up to the task of keeping her by his side, playing sexually demented guitar in the way that Robert Johnson intended. Sure, there are moments when the album sags and becomes workmanlike (Side B's 'Damned If She Do' and 'You Don't Own the Road' seem disposable) but there is enough experimentation to keep it fresh; for example, the Hince-sung vignette 'Wild Charms' is a brief foray into lilting psychedelia.To be honest, if they're culling badgers, they might as well start culling garage rock bands. But The Kills have staked a place as one of the more worthwhile outfits, with a discernable individuality, an untampered with, easily identifiable sound and, on Blood Pressures, a new-found ease at writing fully fledged, entirely believable pop songs.

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