The Kills make their chilling return with bluesy, slow-burner Ash & Ice

The Kills

There’s always existed a dichotomy of blurred influences at the center of The Kill’s inflammatory garage-rock, one that has rotated steadily around the tastes of Florida native Alison Mosshart and British guitarist Jamie Hince. Like fellow UK rockers Savages and newcomers Wolf Alice, the duo’s female-led badassery has flowed directly from their knack for cooking up feverishly heated, guitar-driven medleys. But where The Kill’s differ from their contemporaries is in the way Mosshart’s blues-fueled influences mingle with Hince’s volatile Brit chops. For their fifth album Ash & Ice, the duo highlight brilliantly the seamless melding of their distinctive expressions, opting out (if only momentarily) of those characteristically fuzzy, wall-of-sound electrics and trivial sensuality for slow-burning reflections that teeter on the edge of Mosshart’s ardent musings and Hince’s searing riffs.

As if pulled straight out of the pages of our own adolescence, The Kills open Ash & Ice with a deceptively hectic flurry of familiar echoes–”Doing It To Death,” the album’s opener, finds Mosshart’s sultry cries cutting through buzzing electrics and scalding hammer-ons.

Heads up we’re in a dead club/Put your hands up and do your dipsy and dropsy/And line up, we’re hanging up/We’re double sixing it, night after night/Doing it to death,”

Hot, heavy, and sweaty, deep bass cuts pile atop Mosshart’s yells until her relentless pursuit of pleasure is burning like a funeral pyre. Reborn, “Heart of a Dog” rumbles forward on the booming of fuzzed-out bass lines, as Mosshart begs in her hazily uplifting croons for “strings–attached/unnatural as it feels.” By the time the first bluesy licks of “Hard Habit to Break” begin, Ash & Ice’s reinvention has as well, one that starts with the melodiously smokey trickle of rushing percussion, singed staccato chords, woozy static outbursts, and Mosshart’s terse transmissions. “Days of Why and How” similarly smolders under the swelter of layered synths, drum machines, and her bleak inquiries on the cruel mysteries of her questionable love.

the kills

With the exception of a few flourishing tangents into Mosshart and Hince’s more bluesy fascinations, Ash & Ice divulges the same coarsely organic narratives passion, both its cruelties and euphoria, that the duo have been known to pen. Scorched and scarred, “Siberian Nights” is a familiar broiler, one that buzzes with synthetic shrieks, as Mosshart pours out her fractured and misguided romances–sweaty and sexy, the first half of the track seethes with her raw seduction. But, as the chorus kicks in, the heavy guitars fade out and the synth screeches drift into the distance, and Mosshart’s gravelly mumbles become soothing pleas carried on a swell of glowing guitar riffs and rolling percussion that float endlessly across the desolate frozen tundra. “Let It Drop” continues the duo’s introspective dive and sees a vicious change in tone as Mosshart hums through stuttered electric plucks and Hince’s backing echoes.

You’ve given me reasons/To turn my teardrops into death threats.” 

The latter half of the album contains the most distinctive shifts, as the track “Bitter Fruit” rollicks and rolls on deliciously rhythmic waves of blues-powered ramblings, while Mosshart and Hince’s shared murmurs are carried along some country highway. Again on the oscillating grooves of “Hum for your Buzz,” her soulful howls rekindle themselves into a shivering ballad of delirious longing. 

“It’s over now, it’s over now/That love you’re in/Is fucked up…”

Like a razor blade to the bone, the bare vulnerability of “That Love,” with its softly strummed acoustics and twittering piano, allows Mosshart’s dismal utterances to leave deceivingly deep lacerations on your psyche, as she tears to tatters the excuses of deniers of doomed loves.

The Kills photo

“Impossible Tracks Track” boils moodily beneath brawling guitar kicks and vigorous percussiveness, as Mosshart relishes in the bittersweet grips of her lover’s obsession; while the thundering bass quips on “Black Tar” reignite the album’s undertow of heady blues rock.

Ash & Ice builds towards its finale slowly, like a roaring house fire that consumes each room with a savage intimacy. On “Echo Home,” the duo’s rough whispers slow-dance achingly through the blaze; while the tornado of driving percussion and charred riffs in “Whirling Eye” accelerates itself into an unstable vortex, one sustained solely by Mosshart’s urgently forthright introspections:

“Hollywood two a.m. questioning everything/Neon red, white, and blue, catching up with you/Got a dream doesn’t mean I know what to do.”

Since their inception, the duo have managed to with each album draw new blood from the stony soul of their cavernous atmospherics. Ash & Ice, in its glorious dualities, sees Mosshart and Hince blissfully bleak in their midnight sentiments, unapologetically vulgar and sensuous, with their more devout affections caught in the riptide and left to drown. At times tirelessly frantic in its bitingly choppy lyricisms, and voraciously confiding at others, The Kill’s grumbling veins of bluesy inflections are not only a dazzling break from their punkish tendencies, but also the veritable soulmate to Mosshart’s fervently stirring tenor. Despite their jumps from Southern blues to brash garage noisiness, The Kills retain a potent mixture of carnal honesty, one that hemorrhages by the liter from the depths of their mercilessly frigid tales of love and debauchery.

Words: Steven Ward

The Kills will headline the Fox Theater Pomona on Friday, September 2. Tickets are available here.

Ash & Ice is out now via Domino.

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