Album Review of Bruiser by The Duke Spirit.
Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: Shangri-La Music
Genre(s): Rock, Indie Rock
Simple, naked drums fire up through the silence and a rhythm forms. It loops as a crunchy guitar line joins the party and takes you with it. You’re starting to feel it, that desire to drum your toes or bang your steering wheel in time, then Liela Moss’s vocals pour in, like a delicious syrup bringing everything together, tight and thick into some kind of flapjacky goodness.
Three years on from the brilliant eclecticism of Neptune, which spanned the barn-burning rockers the Duke Spirit were already known for as well as Motown-inflected pop and fragile folk ballads, the band focused on its obvious strengths with the aptly named Bruiser. “Cherry Tree” and “Procession” open the album with proof that Liela Moss and company know how to deploy their low-slung brand of rock efficiently and effortlessly at this point. And while harder and heavier sounds dominate Bruiser, the album actually has more shades in its songwriting than are first apparent.
It’s hard to understand why this lot never really took off. Their rock rollicking on debut ‘[b]Cuts Across The Land[/b]’ was a thing of arresting sexiness – see the ever-fresh ‘[b]Love Is An Unfamiliar Name[/b]’. Yet despite an equally winning second album, ‘[b]Neptune[/b]’, they just… fell off the radar. It’s with some bafflement we can report that their third sees them still being really good.
The Duke Spirit are a band you want to root for, blessed as they are with an alluring frontwowan (Liela Moss) and good taste (drawing on everything from 1980s UK indie to northern soul to murder ballads), but also a willingness to burnish those outsider sources with a considerable sass and swagger to bring the masses on-side. And yet, the masses have been mostly resistant to their charms-- the London group first surfaced in 2005 in the shadow of the similarly seedy but more widely celebrated Kills, while the ensuing years have seen upstart acts like the Joy Formidable emerging with more bombastic, attention-grabbing takes on shared noise-pop influences. The title of the Duke Spirit's third album would suggest they're tired of being relegated to second-class NME citizenry and ready to show the kids who's boss.
Bruiser is the third album from UK five-piece The Duke Spirit. With each offering spaced by well over three years, this band is clearly not one that believes in rushing into the studio. The Duke Spirit dispenses riff-driven rock with a raw edge and an air of menace in its delivery. In vocalist Liela Moss, the band has a true rock chick out front, one who avoids the excesses and more obvious stereotypes.
Formed in 2003, The Duke Spirit have lurked near unseen or heard at the edges of my own personal music knowledge, a band whose name I recognise but one that, until last week, I could have told anyone very little about. A band whose name I’ve seen in the music press, in other writers’ reviews or in festival listings. It’s often the way. Semi-pro rock scribes such as myself often only really get to hear what’s in front of them, the albums and tracks that arrive in the CD promo parcels and downloads and which inevitably take up what time I put aside for actually writing, overriding other bands and their music simply because their releases went to other writers.
There’s enough feedbacking squall and gothic clang on the band’s third album. Noel Gardner 2011 It’s almost a rock’n’roll cliche: the group that took years to write their debut album, and then were horsewhipped back into the studio by labels with eyes fixed to their balance sheets. The result: a rushed and unsatisfying follow-up. Credit, therefore, to London quintet The Duke Spirit – and the labels that have mothered them over the years – for allowing the band some three-and-a-half years between each of their three albums to date.