The Kills Bring Intimacy & Looseness On ‘Ash & Ice’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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kills33Over the course of 15 years and four previous albums, indie duo The Kills have continuously refined their sleazy rock sound, adding and subtracting influences and keeping their core sound intact while making subtle changes in the periphery. Coming off their cleanest, most melodic album – 2011’s Blood Pressures, which is also their best-selling album – Ash & Ice marks the biggest departure from The Kills’ trademark sound.

By doubling down on the pop influence and playing, for the most part, with a cleaner tone, The Kills let loose a sound that is more intimate and less in your face. Whereas Jamie Hince’s rumbling guitar riffs and Alison Mosshart’s swagger often kept the listener at a distance, in Ash & Ice, Hince and Mosshart invite you into the moment.

Hince’s signature style, with fragmented riffs that jarringly combine lead and bass notes, is still there in the mix, but it is less of a focal point, with the drum tracks and synthesizers becoming more prominent. This change may have been out of necessity, with Hince having to relearn how to play guitar after a devastating finger injury required five surgeries in 2013. Mirroring Hince, Mosshart’s lyrics are more introspective and her vocals not as feisty.

Album opener “Doing It To Death” sets the tone. Hince’s recognizable riffing provides the hook, though it is the hip-shaking dance beat the anchors the song about recognizing the need to dial back an excessive lifestyle. “I know we gotta slow it down,” Mosshart sings, “But when the waves come, you face them, and you know we can’t stop it now.”

Songs like “Days of Why and How,” with its dancehall sheen, and piano ballad “That Love” will anger some fans. They’re certainly a far cry from the gritty attitude of The Kills’ earlier work. They do, however, show a more vulnerable side of the band. In the former, Mosshart sings of feeling insecure in a relationship, describing herself as “always looking, never found,” before admitting, “All I do is wonder why, why and how you leave me every night.”

Despite Ash & Ice’s softer, more melodic sound, there is still plenty of The Kills’ bravado to be found. “Heart of a Dog” pairs Mosshart’s rebellious intensity with a heavy, pounding rhythm. “Bitter Fruit” features a grungy blues strut that would feel at home on No Wow.

The album’s finest track is the dramatic blues number “Hum for your Buzz.” With only sparse organ and percussion, the song relies on a lethal harmony between Hince’s nasty guitar riffing and Mosshart’s biting vocals. “I am a believer right on the brink of thinking I cannot be so easily brought to me knees,” Mosshart spits out in unison with Hince’s fuzzed-out riff. The album has some misfires and requires more listens to appreciate than The Kills’ earlier work. Though not as infectious as Blood Pressures or as intense as Midnight Boom, with Ash & Ice, The Kills straddle the lines between rock aggression, pop catchiness, and poetic introspection.

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