It is drummer Matt Hayward who starts Band of Skulls' fourth album, By Default. With a loud pounding on his snare he plays a long pick up before the band chimes in. The sound is loud, dry, driving and urgent. Hayward sets a standard with his kickstarting By Default, a standard that the band needs to keep up is to convince with this album.
With 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey' Band of Skulls catapulted into my life in 2010, making it all the way to my album of that year. The first eight songs on that album are just so good. Although 'Sweet Sour' and 'Himalayan' had its moment the albums were not as good as that first, stellar debut. (Both latter albums were reviewed on this blog.) The interaction between Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson's singing and the driving riffs of Marsden's guitar over the bass and drums give Band of Skulls not so much a unique but certainly its own voice. The stops and starts in the music gave the songs a kind of tension that was almost tangible.
These strong points are all played out to the max on By Default. At the first listen session all my Band of Skulls strings were touched immediately. Yes, this is what I want to hear, my brain was telling me. Did that feeling last?
Well, I have temper the joy somewhat. For a very simple reason. Band of Skulls will never have that impact on me again that they reached with 'Baby Darling Doll Face Honey'. Not unless it reinvents itself totally and convinces in the same, impressive way. I rule out that possibility. That is a once in a lifetime feat. There will never be another 'Death By Diamonds And Pearls'.
By Default does well when I rule out that possibility. As I said strings were touched and that is where things start. 'Black Magic' is an extremely good song from the moment the whole band takes over the drum entry. Singing like Weezer and riffing like Band of Skulls, before the whole moves into a fantastic chorus. The stop start verse is one of the strong points of this band. A dreamlike beginning of By Default.
The band follows this with a show of all the things it has become so good at over the past six years. T.Rex like rhythms, funky guitars, free flowing pop-rock songs, perfect choruses. It all comes by without a single song that takes the album down. The band has become better in arranging harmonies and in that way has become much more confident. All without losing that core roughness that makes it stand out. What By Default shows is a band that is determined to make it and works hard at improving itself. I could mention something positive about all the songs. I'll refrain from that. My message is clear.
It is the final song, 'Something' that surprised me. What? Prince? At best I still have to get used to it, but I doubt it. Ten good to great songs, one bummer. What does that say about an album? A lot. If you like indie rock with some great singing? Here's your album for 2016.
You can listen to 'Killer' here:
of by By Default at Bol.Com