The Kills deliver style and substance on Ash & Ice

Ash IceAt first glance, despite - or perhaps because of - their cosmopolitan glamour, The Kills appear to be a decidedly old fashioned proposition. Jamie Hince, he of the supermodel girlfriends and haircut reclaimed from the Cardiff Barfly's 2005 heyday, still carries the same Lou Reid swagger, whittling the band's blunt edges into something altogether more dangerous. Then there's Alison Mosshart, her of the ink-black huskiness that made Jack White seem like the comic relief in The Dead Weather, a Nico in waiting. Fortunately for us, Ash & Ice continues to throw out all that lame, misogynist bathwater, while holding on to the rock'n'roll baby at the centre of their craft.

For one thing, Mosshart is nobody's muse. PJ Harvey comparisons have arisen in the past, but she's way too bluesy for that, never more so than on the delectably raw "Hum for your Buzz". Is she a femme fatale? I don't think they're supposed to work in the broad strokes of the protagonist in "Siberian Nights": "I could make you come in threes. I'm halfway to my knees. Am I too close for comfort?" Elsewhere, Hince is an equally uncomfortable fit for the role of playboy auteur; despite leading the pitch-perfect production on the album, his presence is nearly always felt in the form of a deft touch, with heavy hands reserved for the bullish characters that populate the songs here.

That's really what elevates The Kills above their peers, in both style and substance: a certain economy, starting with the bleak drum machine beats, and working through the spaces they choose to punctuate with ellipses and exclamation marks. At their dirtiest, scuzziest best, those songs that aspire to the "Cheap and Cheerful" school of decadence, it's often a shriek of electric guitar, or else just a shriek of human ecstasy. Where the guitars give way to synths and keys - Hince recently slammed his hand in a car door, and had to re-learn the guitar following a tendon transplant - the results are no less darkly wonderful, particularly on "Days of How and Why", a morphine jam that demonstrates how ably the duo can stretch out their angst. Even on the occasions where it's all stripped back to guitar and voice, there's usually a punctum. "That Love" is already a superlative dread ballad, but when Mosshart climbs her register to declare "that love is a fucking joke," the heart races to keep up.

Like all great bands, The Kills transcend any tenuous links to the era they sprung up in, or any that they call back to. Ash & Ice arrives in a post-landfill indie world, and exists as a document to the survival spirit of its creators, worlds away from padding out indie disco playlists between Boy Kill Boy and The Holloways. But nor do they owe as much as one might think to bands like The Velvet Underground, either. They are, beyond doubt now, ploughing a furrow deep and expansive enough to call it their own. Write Mosshart and Hince off as scenester throwbacks at your peril: they're quietly developing one of the finest indie rock canons of the young century.

Release: 3rd June 2016, Domino Records


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