Friday, November 25, 2011

The Duke Spirit Is Still A Bruiser

It felt like forever for the Duke Spirit to see the release of their third album, Bruiser. Originally set for release in early 2011, it was pushed back several months, leaving the single Don't Wait as the only holdover since the release of the beatific ferocity found inside the Kusama EP last December.

The wait was by design, given front woman Liela Moss has described Bruiser as an exercise in painting and repainting. You can hear it in the album too. Some of the repaint is barely dry.

But random repainting wasn't the only reason. The band had carefully weighed whether it wanted to release the album as an indie or sign with Fiction. Signing meant a longer wait while the label looked for the right opening to an already full slate.

Bruiser bounces between brutal and over-baked. 

So if anything, the painting and repainting almost happened in reverse. The extra time gave Moss, Luke Ford, Toby Butler, Oliver Betts, and Marc Sallis more to time to tinker.

For instance, remnants of their early work with producer Richard File (formerly U.N.K.L.E.) was scrapped, but they retained some of his rhythmic influences. They also recorded more songs, refined some, and remixed several. That's both good and bad.

Bruiser retains the London-based alternative rockers' uniquely haunting arrangements but sometimes breaks the album's continuity by dabbling in several directions. The variety is nice, but not always.

Fortunately, the best is intact. Villain is a killer. Northbound is a keeper. Everybody Is Under Your Spell is still a driver. And while Surrender feels too pop in parts, Moss smokes outside the chorus.

One personal goal they did achieve inside a studio they built themselves was isolating the instruments so they could stand on their own. It especially rings true in songs like Procession that muscles its way forward, slowing pushing through the crowd.

Breaking down the rest of Bruiser, the band's little bit of everything.

Bodies also brings the band back to its bare bones, connecting with their earlier work in that it almost reintroduces the confessional feel that originally helped the Duke Spirit get noticed. That of course, and their live shows. The Duke Spirit has always squeeze themselves for every drop of attention.

There is no wonder Moss calls it the band's horoscope, map, and punching bag. After opening with with the chorus-restrained Cherry Tree and then bristling through the next two tracks, Don't Wait never hits the crackling and pained attraction that Moss adds to it in live perfromances. Neither does De Lux nor Sweet Bitter Sweet (in parts), at least until she throttles up her vocals.

On the flip side, Running Fire is as ferocious anything that the Duke Spirit has put out. And Homecoming, which almost comes across like a bonus track, might be the most underrated track on the album.  

Bruiser By The Duke Spirit Muscles Up At 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

When you count up the hits and misses, Bruiser is a remarkably better album than than it sounds at times. The drop off comes from knowing several of the songs play better on stage and have more potential than the studio versions deliver. Or maybe it was waiting so long. Or perhaps not having A Wig On A Mind, the B-side to the Surrender single released in the UK.

Bruiser by The Duke Spirit is available on iTunes from Shangri-La Music in the U.S. The CD is available from Barnes & Noble. Amazon also carries Bruiser, with the MP3 downloads the better value.
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