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.