Sunday, 18 November 2007

THE DUKE SPIRIT - Ex-Voto EP

It's always great to hear a female vocalist being, well, a vocalist - forsaking pseudonyms and caricature - and The Duke Spirit's Leila Moss is exactly that, her exhiliratingly piercing vocals just about succeeing in raising the band above predictable grunge-rock comparisons.

Ex-Voto knocks such comparisons aside with Moss's vocals flitting between concord with the guitar back to soar away from claustrophobic riffs. Opener Lassoo is almost embarassingly hummable, driven by Sonic-Youth style noise and a solid, entirely rock'n'roll rhythm. Recorded at Rancho De La Luna, Joshua Tree, the home of Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss et al., Ex-Voto is infused with crunchy, distorted desert rock sound - and it's admittedly easy to enjoy.

Stylistically it's not shockingly different to anything Howling Bells (who stole their female vocalist led rock band thunder), or even PJ Harvey, have brought out since Duke Spirit's previous album, 2005's Cuts Accross The Land. The band are at their best with the gothic-romance scenery of Wild Roses and the repetetive, Radiohead style refrain, 'Somehow everyone's the same' of final track Masca. You can't help but feel that if Moss made the most of the impassioned, Bjork-stlyle delivery showcased on tracks like A Wild Hope, The Duke Spirit could make the leap from being easy-listening to something slightly more gritty.

The potential for a great album is here, and made more urgent by the fact that the representation of female vocalists in rock is currently maintained by idiosyncratic, typically market unfriendly Joanna Newsom-Bjork releases. If Ex-Voto is a taste of things to come on Neptune, to be released in 2008, The Duke Spirit could well be something worth getting excited about. Unless the Howling Bells get there first.

(6/10)


Liz Dodd

Monday, 5 November 2007

DAVE GAHAN - Hourglass

Gahan, previously of Depeche Mode, makes a return to his electronica roots with new album Hourglass.

Steeped in New Wave, it's bleak and epic, not unlike a lot of early Depeche Mode. To give Gahan credit, he has the right to tackle the dark side solo: after overdosing on a heroine-cocaine speedball in 1996 he was pronounced clinically dead for two minutes. Tragic decadence is a recurring theme, and the Bowie-Iggy Berlin era is an influence; strongest track Use You is tantalisingly close to Nightclubbing. It's about when partying goes wrong, but you survive - something Gahan underscores with his choice of session musicians, including John Frusciante (Chilli Peppers), a fellow ex-heroine addict, on opener Saw Something.

You can't shake the sense, though, that Gahan's impressively market-friendly baritone doesn't quite do justice to the content or the sparse sound of this album. When he does manage a Nick Cave-esque snarl it is, oddly, a breath of fresh air. Otherwise vocals (which bizarrely remind me of Chris Martin - imagine Coldplay covering Mercy Seat) can leave you feeling like this album, which sets out to question the foundations of the reality it shakes, manages little more than dotting a hazy question mark amid some fairly well-established musical wandering.

If you like Depeche Mode, you'll like this, and fair play if that's what Gahan was aiming for, but the tantalising moments of promise may indicate that with a few more years, and a bit more distance, Gahan could deliver something truly capable of blowing shallower acts out of the water.

(6/10)


Liz Dodd