Band Of Skulls


Written by: TL on 08/04/2014 17:16:01

If I was in a struggling, lesser known blues rock band, I could be getting cynical and perhaps a bit bitter as I looked these past few years, at how Southampton trio Band Of Skulls have seemingly casually geared their career up, landing a support slot for mighty Queens Of The Stone Age after having already headlined across Europe on the back of only two albums: 09's rowdy "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey" and 12's ever so slightly more elegant "Sweet Sour". Especially because Band Of Skulls, while being as blues to the bone as their songs are badass, are clearly and shamelessly intent on being relevant in 2014 in a big way.

My point is that Band Of Skulls get to the point, emphasized immediately with "Asleep At The Wheel", which heads into its groovy verse with no intro needed and after about a minute the tempo drops, the vocals of guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Thompson rise and go "thank God for ABS, 'cuz where we are going is anyone's gue-ee-ess" up upon a classic, Wolfmother-style boogie riff. Title track "Himalayan" keeps up strongly, with the oomphy bass notes emphasizing the verse riff in brazen, seductive fashion, while The Kills fans will feel welcome as always in the male/female vocal dynamic before the solo in the song comes in and almost sends me off to strangely Foals-esque, hedonistic danging urges.

Off to a strong start, the 'Skulls pile it on with the near-comical swagger of "Hoochie Coochie", the bubbly guitar signature of which is devilishly infectious as well, and later on "Brothers And Sisters" is likely to foil you by sounding distractingly like the band just re-used the elements from "Asleep At The Wheel" to recreate a disturbingly similar song, yet still tugging at your hips like a sexy interest of yours dragging you towards a dim-lit dance floor. Yet while the band's stylistic development from the two first albums and onto here may be subtle, the group consistently branches out. It might not always pan out perfectly, as songs like the stadium rock-ish "Nightmares" or the slow burning, James Bond-theme-like "Cold Sweat" are examples of, but these feel like more than tolerable interuptions when "I Guess I Know You Fairly Well" re-emphasizes how solidly the band can do at "slow with a punch to the gut in timely places".

And that perhaps, is a strong indication of exactly why Band Of Skulls are and deserve to be hugely succesful for yet another album cycle. Listen to a comparable and respectable band like Wolfmother or Deap Vally and you'll hear a similar power and punch, yet you'll also hear a constantly white-hot vocal sneer that gets samey down the stretch of an album. Marsden here can do a similar vocal stretch, but he can also sing lullabyes in harmony with Thompson's delicate haze, making for a sound which can feel sleepy at one point and then send a surging pulse from your ears through your body in the next. This is illustrated no better than in the unusual "You Are All That I Am Not", which feels like it goes nowhere for three minutes before rising surprisingly and beautifully to a post-rock-ish tremolo in its fourth minute.

I can easily forgive them then, both for the super rare bits of meandering, for not ending with the epic climax of "Heaven's Key" instead of the strangely spaced-out "Get Yourself Together", and for the corny, rockabilly-ish twang that precedes dusty, QOTSA-ish guitar squeal in "I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead And One Dying". Especially considering how "Toreador" feels like a half-drunk Hemingway swaying through Pamplona en route to a bullfight soundtracked by Muse circa "Knights Of Cydonia". The two latter tracks picture how the band experiments carefully but noticeably on the latter half of "Himalayan", marking it a less tightly wound start-to-finish listen than the previous "Sweet Sour", yet one that is ultimately every bit as worthwhile. So, presto: Three albums in and Band Of Skulls already have enough quality songs to play a set where I'll run out of energy long before they'll run out of ammunition.


Download: Hoochie Coochie, Asleep At The Wheel, Himalayan, Toreador
For The Fans Of: The Kills, Jack White, Deap Vally, The Parlor Mob, Wolfmother

Release date 31.03.2014
Electric Blues Records

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