Band of Skulls know what they are on By Default

By DefaultBand of Skulls are set to bring out their fourth studio album, By Default, on the 27th May, produced by Gil Norton (Pixies, Pattie Smith, Foo Fighters) and released via BMG Recordings.

Lead singer Russell Marsden has described the album as “a new era”, although this is a bit puzzling – By Default could not sound more like a Band of Skulls record if it tried. Instead, it plays out like the band have taken what they have learned, loved and felt comfortable doing from the last three albums to make this one. While security does not generally make for exciting music, they appear to have gotten away with it this time, making the kind of tight, energising rock that you would want playing loudly in your car on the motorway.

Band of Skulls have already released the first single from By Default, “Killer”; a track laden with compelling riffs and fierce drumming. Bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward match each other expertly to create an infectious rhythm section, while Marsden sings out ambiguously dark lyrics.

To listen to any part of this album with ineffective earphones would be a damn shame; Richardson’s bass lines on tracks like “Killer” and “Tropical Disease” are nothing short of brilliance and missing them would leave the record sounding unfairly bare.

Marsden provides layers to the album by mixing up his vocals throughout; almost straining to extend his range on “Bodies” contrasts the lower tones of his voice that he reaches to sing “Tropical Disease”. Immediately following this is “So Good” – the most pop-sounding record on the album, sung by Richardson. With a chorus that would not seem out of place on a Ting Tings record (honestly, this is a compliment), this is the most likely track from the album to make crowds dance.

Like the male and female singers of The Kills and Arcade Fire, the combination of Hayward and Richardson’s vocals has been a consistent asset to Band of Skulls (think “The Devil Takes Care Of His Own” from Sweet Sour and “I Know What I Am” from Baby Darling Doll Face Honey). They prove this again on “Little Momma”, with lyrics like “bees in the honey, don’t you wanna get some?” and heavy breathing in the background reminding us that there are few things sexier than well-executed classic rock.

Many of the songs on the album would be memorable after a couple of plays, but there are a few that come across as primarily album fillers. “Back of Beyond” is a track you would struggle to recognise as a Band of Skulls record if you heard it on the radio with no introduction and “This is My Fix” is not wholly exciting when comparing it to “So Good” and “Little Momma” which surround the track.

Regardless, By Default slots in excellently with the previous three albums and shows Band of Skulls know exactly what they are and what kind of music they want to make. It might not be a “new era”, but it sounds crazy good over some decent speakers.

Release: 27th May 2016, BMG Recordings

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