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Album review: The Kills' 'Blood Pressures'

April 5, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Thekills When the Kills debuted in the early 2000s, they immediately proved the epitome of cool due to their raw sound and uninhibited presence. The unlikely duo of American vocalist Alison Mosshart (who also now moonlights as frontwoman in the Dead Weather alongside Jack White) and Brit guitarist Jamie Hince spewed a lo-fi clamor rich in compelling contradictions. Bluesy elements clashed with drum-machine repetition; Mosshart’s feral caterwaul rubbed against the edges of Hince’s post-punk riffs.

Four albums in, the Kills remain just as confrontational but with a mature edge. Here, the elements prove just as startling; instead of comprising a lo-fi document of a performance, though, they’ve been sharpened into a surgical blade, refined like pharmaceutical cocaine. As a result, the added melodicism and texture feel almost more subversive. First single “Satellite” rides a grunge-reggae groove — a potentially horrid combination that in practice proves inspired. And where PJ Harvey and the Cramps provided sonic touchstones previously, on “Blood Pressures” the ’80s rule the roost: the hard syncopated melodies in “Nail In My Coffin” evoke a demented revision of Animotion’s synth-pop hit “Obsession,” while Mosshart’s breathy melancholy on “Baby Says” recalls the maudlin new wave of the Motels.

There’s a new emphasis on balladry as well, as on the Hince-sung “Wild Charms,” which recalls Bowie’s music-hall moments, and “Last Goodbye,” a chamber-indie waltz that Mosshart imbues with alluring nostalgia and regret. Mosshart throughout exhibits new control — she’s definitively moved from screamer to singer (perhaps influenced by her side gig). Hince as well has become a master of artful hooks that don’t start and stop where they should. The songs’ little jabs infect the listener again and again: they suck you back in even as they draw a little blood, but never quite leave a gushing wound. In this restraint, the Kills have found their greatest power: leaving the pot on simmer keeps the tension throughout, making the album’s resulting stew even more satisfying.

— Matt Diehl

The Kills
“Blood Pressures”
Three stars