Album Review: Band of Skulls - By Default
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Their first three albums all fit the same visual themes, with kaleidoscopic, multi-coloured Rorschach tests belying the reliable, riff-laden songs beneath, which only built in scale with each album. Here, we’re instead presented with a near-empty concert hall, except for a lone guitarist and the band’s kit. Not as eye-catching an image, but there’s a palpable sense of empty space in the frame, full of opportunities just waiting to be further explored. It’s a perfect metaphor for an album which strips back the band’s instruments, relying entirely on lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, yet never feels detached from previous work. It’s a fresh start from where more is possible, especially when the band plays around with empty spaces in their sound.
Those spaces are represented on the second single ‘So Good’. A simplistic four-bar guitar lick drives each verse towards equally simple, yet no less addictive power chords, all of this hanging around the constant pound of the bass drum, dressed up by the vocals of Emma Richardson, on her only lead vocal of the album. There’s something about the song’s composition, as the lead guitar echoes and leaves space for the individual elements to be picked up, that feels freer. It’s less streamlined than a lot of the genre’s output, without feeling rough.Later tracks ‘Singing’ and ‘Something’ share this looseness, and it’s the album’s biggest strength. All these songs unfold over time, as they lack the throat-punching, raw power that one may expect from a band with this name. ‘Singing’ is a plainly creepy, eerie tale of a haunted girl, seemingly told from the omniscient POV of the ghosts she hears singing; meanwhile ‘Something’ is a more romantic, laid-back song: as lead vocalist Russell Marsden croons “I just wanna try my best to do right/I’ll meet you in the morning, meet you every day and/I’ll meet you in the night”, the guitar threatens to transform into a piano. As the chords ring out for longer and longer, it turns the previous Band of Skulls modus operandi on its head.
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