Lotto Arena - Antwerpen (be) + White Lies
Botanique @ Rotonde - Brussel (be)
The Duke Spirit have spent the past 8 months whipping their new tunes into fighting
shape. “We put our songs on a diet, got them lean, mean and hungry sounding,” singer Liela Moss says of the dozen stripped-down tracks on the band’s new album “Bruiser”
“It feels like a different band — well we are a different group on this record”. Bruiser
marks a renaissance for all the Dukes: “We still think of ourselves as a rock & roll
band, but the emphasis is totally on the roll this time around,” guitarist Butler says.
The seven-year-old U.K. outfit — Liela Moss, bassist-turned-guitarist Toby Butler,
guitarist Luke Ford, and drummer Olly Betts — decided to record their third album as a quartet after guitarist Dan Higgins exited, asking new bassist Marc Sallis to join the squad more recently. The result: supreme focus and a scaled-down sound that cuts to the heart of The Duke Spirit more precisely than ever. “This album feels sharper than before, more articulate” Moss adds. “We can get our teeth into it without having to wipe the fuzz off first.” Translation: After two albums of opaque lyrics and increasingly dense sounds, The Duke Spirit have carved new space into the sonic swathes of their earlier work. Pushing aside some of the layers of noise to reveal a new heart – a new clarity. The outcome is spectacular.
The Duke Spirit was born when Moss met Butler and Ford at Art College in a town
best known for its horse racing and Brian Jones’s grave. Descending on London, they
moved into a house with no furniture and wrote what she calls “twee songs,” then
burned their acoustic guitars and modeled themselves on Spiritualized, The Saints,
Patti Smith, and Sonic Youth. Serendipitously, Betts wandered into a friend of theirs in a shop and mentioned he was seeking a band, right at the crucial point. Together, the band clicked into a ferocious and beloved live act; Moss is known for her microphone hurling, hip-shaking tambourine with mean harmonica, and all-around otherworldly vigor. Bruiser started to take shape last winter, when The Duke Spirit came off two years of touring behind their acclaimed sophomore release ‘Neptune’ and hunkered down in their new London studio space for the first time ever to sketch out tracks on their own turf.
Songwriting sessions were fuelled by the band’s rekindled appreciation for an eclectic
mix of music; from Robert Fripp/David Bowie to Roxy Music to Depeche Mode.
When gothy rock wasn’t on the stereo, inspiration was sought from the darker,
sometimes forgotten corners of the NY ’60s folk scene, like Karen Dalton and percussive genius Moondog. The band’s taste for a more minimalist approach sound-wise, Liela explains, “was marshalled lyrically and musically by strange harmonies that arrive unexpectedly, transient sprinkles of tonal magic, and those short guitar solos that make their point and leave.” Quick right hooks…
The gorgeous, ominous, piano-led “Villain” solidly makes the point — the song swells from its delicate beginning as Moss sings, “I’m a villain in love, you’re a villain alone” and the key shifts from a triumphant major to a daunting minor, grooving with a hypnotic throb. The chorus is a harmony-rich crescendo; its hooks are the bejeweled, painted claws of a purring wildcat clamping into soft smooth skin.
“Don’t you stare, you know it’s rude,” spits Moss in a voice that had begun as tender and graceful but turns cracked and cruel. After a few months of work in London, the band grabbed their tapes and files for a pilgrimage back to Los Angeles to finish the record with Andrew Scheps (Johnny Cash, Chilli Peppers, Metallica). Scheps (who has a rep for being Rick Rubin’s favourite pair of ears, as well as a production wizard) helped them slim down their instrumentation so it would ultimately thump on the stereo. The proof is immediately evident on opener “Cherry Tree,” a slinky, driving track built on a rumbling bass line over which Moss proclaims, “I don’t look back/Why would you?” Ideas about the inviolable nature of time and perspective also wound up shaping the sexy, smouldering “Don’t Wait,” which was born out of a phrase Ford scrawled on a scrap of paper: “Time changes every idea I’ve ever had”.
“This is one song that actually was written on the road, in the back of the bus and dressing rooms,” Moss says. “I think we were both asking questions of ourselves in the context of constant travel and displacement. Escapism is just a word, until you find yourself living it! Then the constant leaving and arriving starts to cut really deep “. Since Neptune arrived, The Duke Spirit have had a few adventures collaborating with the fashion world — designers Philip Lim and the late Alexander McQueen called Liela their muse — but Moss says such experiences didn’t directly affect Bruiser. “There’s an element of costume in a song like ‘Procession’ that perhaps is related to seeing a part of the fashion world up-close, feeling the theatrics of it in the room,” she reveals, “but we have not been changed from those encounters. We have enjoyed the random collaborations and the invites to do stuff with sublime designers, but we haven’t acquired affectations since. We still mess with nasty sounds and ideas that spill into the realm of ugliness and rejection.”
Check the sinister delicacy of “De Lux” for evidence of that, or first single “Every
body’s Under Your Spell” — over squealing guitars, churning riffs, and powerful
drumming Moss gets her snarl on with a wink. As the song swaggers to its end with a
pared-down, “Gimme Shelter”-like outro, it well sums up the album’s ethos: “Bruiser is tough love. Bruiser is an order of seraphim singing burning praise. Bruiser is a sensual creature or a woodland demon … just look at that Ram on the cover!”