Monday, December 8, 2008

Review: The Duke Spirit’s “Neptune”

I first heard about The Duke Spirit through a friend in England, who told me they were first and foremost a great live band. I then managed to miss them recently, supporting Eagles of Death Metal, at Paradise. Live band they may be, but I only have their new 2nd album Neptune to go on. Having missed my chance, how could I gain access to their energy? As it turned out, it was very simple: Volume.

I guess many bands would sound pretty grating once they passed a certain level of loudness, but for The Duke Spirit, it is pretty much essential. Perhaps this is not a ringing endorsement. When I was first learning about sound engineering, we were told that just boosting the volume of music would only impair our judgment of it’s range and quality. More cynically, I remember one engineer telling me that he just put up the levels of everything before the band first heard it played back, and thus won them over. We’ve all heard about the recent, stupidly loud, Metallica album. How can loud make this band, and yet not make them bad?

I think you can find the answer in a close relative. The Raveonettes are rather like The Duke Spirit in several ways. They are indebted to a lot of music from the 50s and early 60s, particularly on tracks like “The Step and The Walk.” Harmonies and Liela Moss’ main vocals, horns and shrill single strikes on clean guitars all give the band a tinge of something from the past. But The Duke Spirit are certainly not old-fashioned, and this gives us another similarity with The Ravonettes. Both bands add vicious guitars that sound like noise-core stomping all over nursery rhymes. “Neptune’s Spirit” for example opens like an early Wannadies track, a soft voice destroyed by a burst of anger. The Ravonettes take this logic a little further, sitting quite comfortably in static and drone for whole tracks. But the sudden shocks on this album also demand higher and higher volume.

The album does have some delicacy too. Tracks like “Sovereign” are sweet, but somehow also call for the hum of still air after a storm – air that could break into deafening distortion without warning. So I feel rather like I’ve danced (!) in a crowd once I get through listening to this album at a suitable volume, and we have all sweated pounds and burnt ourselves out in the mix. I wish I could have been there, but perhaps then the damage to my ears would have been irrevocable.

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