Album Reviews

The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across The Land

(Polydor) UK release date: 16 May 2005

Just when you thought it might be safe to slateguitar bands again, along comes another one,determined to demonstrate that basking in the whiteheat of The Velvet Underground is still thedefault position of aspiring, slightly-disaffected,art rocker-types.

The question is, can The Duke Spirit transcendfamiliar influences and strike a dimly-lit pose thatis all their own? The answer, if you can’t be arsed toread to the end of this review, is yes, they can. Attimes. And there’s the rub.

As singer Leila Moss is a woman fronting anall-male combo, the usual immediate connections willalready appear by rote. And yup, the PJ Harvey-ismsare impossible to ignore in the howling wolf momentsof Darling You’re Mean and Win Your Love. Most of thetime though Leila glides over the feedback dialogueslike an de-francophiled Trish of Broadcast.

A little less sonic, but a lot more youth, You WereBorn Inside My Heart presides over some ear-ringingThurston Moore churn. A meditation on burgeoningsuccess (“How’s your fame / don’t say you didn’t wantit”), its palpable fear of the unknown is echoed byLovetones (“I don’t know what’s to come”).

Single Love Is An Unfamiliar Name dips a wonkyfringe into ‘angular’ territory. Avoiding the atonaland/or sub-Bowie operatics that the form tends todemand, Moss excels with a double-trackedstaccato approach. A backbeat mixed daringly low, LoveIs An Unfamiliar Name crackles and hisses in atinny-transistor radio way that irradiates the higherregisters. It’s almost a kind of pop music in aplatinum-selling Mercury Rev sort of world.

And now for the rub. For this kind of gnarlednoize to really work, you need ‘a performance thatgoes all the way’. It’s okay to play at being unhingedand carnal ( like Win Your Love’s “I know those eyes/ And I want those bones”), but do The Duke Spiritbelieve in the part they’re playing?

These Dooks could have been spawned by acacophonous night of intimacy between Merzbowand Yoko Ono, but they sound like niceboho-types who wrap up warm for winter and are allround good eggs. Even when Moss sullenly exclaims “I’mso cheap” and “I’m a nightmare” (Darling You’reMean), you understand there’s little wrong that afresh brew and a fitful snooze won’t solve.

The Duke Spirit just about hold back from frontingup to the blaring void. Still, “excited by noise” (RedWeather) as they are, they can still ride a rock ‘n’roll whirlwind in a way that makes Jason Pierce’s lastouting sound forced. Stubborn Stitches lets loose inIggy-style catharcism, while Fades Into The Sunthreatens to become Mega City Four beforesettling happily in the neighbourhood ofMotorhead.

Though The Duke Spirit lack the Tex Avery mania ofthe Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the eye-bulgingstrutting confidence of Polly Harvey, they do have aneasy way with structured reverberative grooves. Andwith Hello To The Floor and Bottom Of The Sea,trinket-box, candle-bearing balladry, they’re not tooshy to step outside the comfort of the maelstrom.

Cuts Across The Land may be nothing new under thesun, but it might be the start of something wonderful.Might of course. And there’s the rub.

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The Duke Spirit – Cuts Across The Land