Just when you thought it might be safe to slate guitar bands again, along comes another one, determined to demonstrate that basking in the white heat of The Velvet Underground is still the default position of aspiring, slightly-disaffected, art rocker-types.
The question is, can The Duke Spirit transcend familiar influences and strike a dimly-lit pose that is all their own? The answer, if you can’t be arsed to read to the end of this review, is yes, they can. At times. And there’s the rub.
As singer Leila Moss is a woman fronting an all-male combo, the usual immediate connections will already appear by rote. And yup, the PJ Harvey-isms are impossible to ignore in the howling wolf moments of Darling You’re Mean and Win Your Love. Most of the time though Leila glides over the feedback dialogues like an de-francophiled Trish of Broadcast.
A little less sonic, but a lot more youth, You Were Born Inside My Heart presides over some ear-ringing Thurston Moore churn. A meditation on burgeoning success (“How’s your fame / don’t say you didn’t want it”), its palpable fear of the unknown is echoed by Lovetones (“I don’t know what’s to come”).
Single Love Is An Unfamiliar Name dips a wonky fringe into ‘angular’ territory. Avoiding the atonal and/or sub-David Bowie operatics that the form tends to demand, Moss excels with a double-tracked staccato approach. A backbeat mixed daringly low, LoveIs An Unfamiliar Name crackles and hisses in a tinny transistor radio way that irradiates the higher registers. It’s almost a kind of pop music in a platinum-selling Mercury Rev sort of world.
And now for the rub. For this kind of gnarled noize to really work, you need ‘a performance that goes all the way’. It’s okay to play at being unhinged and carnal (like Win Your Love’s “I know those eyes/ And I want those bones”), but do The Duke Spirit believe in the part they’re playing?
These Dooks could have been spawned by a cacophonous night of intimacy between Merzbow and Yoko Ono, but they sound like nice boho-types who wrap up warm for winter and are all round good eggs. Even when Moss sullenly exclaims “I’m so cheap” and “I’m a nightmare” (Darling You’re Mean), you understand there’s little wrong that afresh brew and a fitful snooze won’t solve.
The Duke Spirit just about hold back from fronting up to the blaring void. Still, “excited by noise” (Red Weather) as they are, they can still ride a rock ‘n’roll whirlwind in a way that makes Jason Pierce’s last outing sound forced. Stubborn Stitches lets loose in Iggy Pop-style catharcism, while Fades Into The Sun threatens to become Mega City Four before settling happily in the neighbourhood of Motörhead.
Though The Duke Spirit lack the Tex Avery mania of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or the eye-bulging strutting confidence of Polly Harvey, they do have an easy way with structured reverberative grooves. And with Hello To The Floor and Bottom Of The Sea, trinket-box, candle-bearing balladry, they’re not too shy to step outside the comfort of the maelstrom.
Cuts Across The Land may be nothing new under the sun, but it might be the start of something wonderful.Might of course. And there’s the rub.