Band Of Skulls

By Default

Written by: TL on 15/06/2016 19:57:56

Southampton indie/boogie rock & roll trio Band Of Skulls have been an underrated capacity for a while now, nonetheless churning out three albums of solid quality prior to this year, with particularly their second, "Sweet Sour", coming off as distinctly cooler than the average. Great, but the early singles surfacing off this year's opus four, "By Default", have not been unconditionally convincing, and regrettably the album does feel like a notable step down from 2014's "Himalayan".

In terms of style Band Of Skulls have changed only by nuances, trading continuously in a kind of laid-back, rhythmic rock & roll that seems minimalistic on the surface, yet which has routinely provided a small wealth of tasteful ornamentary details beyond what you would expect from someone like Royal Blood, The Kills or Jack White, all of which being artists you could readily compare the group's style to. Similarly to The Kills, the band has a male/female combination in front, with guitarist Russell Marsden and bassist Emma Richardson trading vocal duties back and forth, which has been a boon especially during moments where Richardson has been in the lead, as her very measured but charismatic singing has helped give the band's rhythmically pulsing stuff an added atmospheric quality.

As hinted, though, things don't come together as well on "By Default". In fact, there's a handful of tracks to sort of sit through where honestly, it feels like Band Of Skulls are trying to fabricate a feeling that they previously conjured quite naturally. The carefully detailed progressions in the arrangements are still there, but the riffs have less edge and there's a recurring feeling that the band has had safe, sort of retro-radio-pop in mind while writing this material, more so than threatening, sweaty rock. Opener "Black Magic" feels like a paler regurgitation of previous greats while "Back Of Beyond" is different alright, but oddly happy-clappy in a way that doesn't suit the band too well, while the single "Killer" - although managing to come off catchy upon repetition - feels a bit, well, dumb, in its chorus.

If you hang around until track six, however, there are some signs of redemption - perhaps not entirely coincidentally at the time when Richardson steps firmly in the lead on vocals -on the track "So Good", which is just noticeably smooth where what went before wasn't quite. And a couple of tracks later the album delivers a second ray of light in "Little Mamma", where both the stripped down verse and the simple buzzing sound of the chorus riff help rekindle some of that sense of swagger the band previously exuded more plentifully.

Afterwards, the remaining four tracks sink back down to a similarly lukewarm impact as the opening numbers, with the title-ish track "In Love By Default" boggling the mind in particular, with a tempo change into disco - complete with a snare that pleads weakly for clapping along - thrown in at the middle which doesn't do anything for the track in the slightest.

So then, overall hardly as consistent an offering as we've grown used to from Band Of Skulls, which is a disappointment - no words minced there - but at least there a couple of songs and moments that let you know that all hope is not lost. Good bands are still allowed an off album, aren't they?

Download: So Good, Little Mama
For The Fans Of: The Kills, Jack White, Royal Blood

Release date 27.05.2016
BMG Rights Management

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