Release Date: Jun 3, 2016
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Jamie Hince’s story of how ‘Ash & Ice’ came to be, well, ‘Ash & Ice’ is a fitting one, as The Kills’ fifth album swiftly moves from the stoic bravado of ‘Doing It To Death’’s “double-sixing it night after night” to a darker place, increasingly introspective as the record goes on. “That love you’re in, it’s fucked up” sighs Alison Mosshart repeatedly during the piano-led ‘That Love’. It could also be attributed to the miles (and then some) Jamie spent travelling across the depths of Russia, or perhaps the injury that almost meant he’d have to give up the guitar completely.
The Kills have been away for a while. The otherwise unremarkable five years since their last album, Blood Pressures, have been made more dramatic by Jamie Hince’s career-threatening hand injury and the series of surgeries it necessitated (not to mention the distraction of his marriage to some supermodel). It’s not surprising then that the duo would want to reassert themselves in as big a way as possible with their fifth album, Ash & Ice.
The Kills experienced -- or should that be survived? -- an eventful five years between 2011's Blood Pressures and Ash & Ice. Alison Mosshart moved to Nashville and worked with the Dead Weather as well as on her career as a visual artist, while Jamie Hince split with wife Kate Moss and suffered an injury to his left hand that required him to learn how to play guitar again. The process of recovering from a broken hand and a broken heart is apparent on the duo's fifth album, the title of which suggests the remnants of a night out -- or a nuclear winter -- and also reflects the trip Hince took on the Trans-Siberian Express in the wake of these events.
The Kills' first album since 2009's Blood Pressures, Ash & Ice, finds the band employing the same bare bones power technique Alison "VV" Mosshart and Jamie "Hotel" Hince built over their last four studio efforts. Sticking with the minimalist percussion technique that they've been known for from the beginning, first single "Doing It to Death" is driven by sparse guitar, while the simple instrumentals of "Heart of a Dog" leave room for Mosshart's pure rock'n'roll vocals to seduce the listener. Easily one of the most badass singers screaming into a microphone today, Mosshart can wail about violent death and romantic love with equal power and emotion.
When the Kills first emerged, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince had a fire-and-water dynamic. Pitting her howls against his dead-cool guitar damage, the duo were like elemental forces locked in a symbiotic relationship of mutually assured destruction. Now, 15 years and five albums later, they’ve become Ash & Ice—refined byproducts of their original state, sapped of their frisson.
It’s a good thing the song called “Doing It to Death” is the first on Ash & Ice, because if it was the last it might be funny. Don’t worry; the visually dramatic but professionally stoic Kills haven’t suddenly developed a self-deprecating sense of humor. Like a sullen café server, Ash & Ice does exactly what you expect it to for slightly longer than you’d like it to take, with the minimum of authentic excitement.
The magnetic pairing of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart have been coming together to thrill audiences as The Kills for more than 15 years now. While the duo’s lo-fi, scratchy rock has consistently progressed during that time, one constant is the perfect partnership of Mosshart’s howling vocals with Hince’s gritty guitar riffs. It shouldn’t work, but has turned out to be a match made in heaven.
When the Kills first emerged at the turn of the century, they were a lean, mean rock’n’roll machine. Skip forward a tumultuous decade that has encompassed guitarist Jamie Hince’s marriage and impending divorce to Kate Moss, however, and they’re … well, they’re still pretty much the same. Music may have moved on, but the Kills are still wearing skinny jeans and leather while unleashing chugging riffs and pre-programmed rhythms beneath Alison Mosshart’s attitude-laced vocals.
Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, also known as The Kills, have been around the block a time or two in their fifteen-year career. The latest from the duo, Ash & Ice, is as brooding as you might expect given the band name and their public persona, but lacks the hooks required for repeat listening. The heartache and longing found throughout past albums are present here as well, but fail to find an emotional foothold, instead mired in spent ideas and tired tropes.
The Kills are known for producing records angularly hung around cocky, cool, 'couldn't-care-less-could-I' sentiment. In the past, they've always managed not to fall the boring, blokey side of swaggering by virtue of the presence of an underlying tension in all of their work. A nod to camera. A singular exhale caught by the mic after a particularly well-crafted verse.
Five years can be an eternity when it comes to what we feed into our ears; that which sounded daring and inventive quickly grows passé when vogue starts looking elsewhere. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince may have hinted at a radical departure from 2011’s Blood Pressures – a hand injury forcing Hince to play guitar in a completely different way – yet the predictable scuzziness behind Ash & Ice reinforces the impression that The Kills are merely slumming it at the sleazy end of the spectrum. The sound may be a little fuller, the bleary angst more reflective, yet even singles Doing It to Death and Heart of a Dog suggest that we’ve travelled this way before.
The maturation of the Kills continues with this taut, emotionally complex fifth record, which deepens their sound even if it doesn’t break new sonic ground. The songs lack the ferocity of the duo’s most potent work but still possess dark intensity, thanks to Alison Mosshart’s fraught take on relationships, and ever-turbulent vocals. She’s developed into a revealing songwriter with a hard-boiled, poetic eye.
The Kills have always been underdogs. Even after 15 years together, four albums and a heap of acclaim, Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart’s biggest UK headline show remains a gig they played at Brixton Academy in 2011. Not even guitarist Hince becoming a regular in gossip columns during his five-year marriage to supermodel Kate Moss could shunt them into the bright lights.On ‘Ash & Ice’ none of that looks set to change, even though their fifth album comes after high drama for the band.
Dichotomy has always played a crucial role within The Kills. The untamed balance between the group’s gritty, lo-fi sonic charms and their polished, dynamic flair has infused their thoroughly modern sound with a restless, seductive quality straight from the start. No matter what churning, feverish tones their music takes on, it has always paired perfectly with the stylish, combustible cool of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart.
If you would've asked Carl and I that we'd still be writing this feature a few months ago, we would've been surprised. But we just can't help ourselves, seeing as this year has been exceptionally rich in terms of album releases. So how did we fare with our monthly "leftovers" this time around? Well ….
The Kills’ Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart relish working with a constrained sonic palette: electronic programming, scorched-blues guitar riffs scuffed with distortion and effects, and tenacious vocals. Ash & Ice, the band’s first album since 2011’s Blood Pressures, had more unique limitations in place. Several years ago, Hince damaged his finger in an accident and had to re-learn his guitar technique.