From The Black Keys to the Japandroids to Death From Above 1979, bands composed of talented duos were quite the phenomenon of the 2000’s. The Kills came around at the right time, then. Vocalist Allison Mosshart (who also sings for The Dead Weather) and guitarist Jamie Hince slid onto the scene in 2001, and despite comparisons to that other garage-punk boy/girl duo The White Stripes, The Kills managed to take the genre and put their own pop-ish spin on it, seeing them through three critically acclaimed albums. Their latest release, though, Blood Pressures, does what the title suggests and pumps up their sound to heart-racing new levels.
Compared to 2008’s Midnight Bloom, Blood Pressures sheds the more pop beats and synthetic sounds and embraces a more simplistic, almost vintage-y blues punk hybrid. Mosshart is featured more prominently on the album, with her vocals in a stronger, more aggressive range, perhaps leftover from her raging work on The Dead Weather’s Sea of Cowards. Her vocals mesh seamlessly with the material, adding to the authenticity of the songs. Hince’s voice is still apparent on most songs, and he takes total control of “Wild Charms”, but it’s really his guitar that shines. Through him, strands of 60’s “UK Beat” riffs and Western-themed Americana are scattered artfully throughout the album.
Blood Pressures springs out of the gate at full-tilt with the pounding, heartbeat drums of “Future Starts Slow”. By the time the guitar riffs come in, you know you’ve got one hell of a song on your hands. “There’s a time for the second best/there’s a time when the fear is gone” Mosshart and Hince sing together, trading off in beautiful harmony.
“Satellite” sludges on at a grinding, bass-rattling pace. It’s a sexy homage to classic roots rock and 40’s jazz with a soaring “whoooaa” chorus that really adds an extra layer of oomph. Considering the band doesn’t have an actual drummer as part of the group, it’s surprising that part of Blood Pressures’ strength is the usage of drums to hammer the point of each song home. The “Heart is a Beating Drum” bangs along with a mix of drumbeats, from drum kit samples to echoing floor toms and catchy handclaps, contrasting with Mosshart’s voice, which borders on being almost wicked, like a teasing temptress. The muted strings and descending riff from Hince’s guitar mix in at opportune moments.
More percussion magic is used on the irresistible “Nail in My Coffin”, which has a lo-fi garage guitar reverb backing up Mosshart’s “Oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” vocals. It’s a total toe-tapper, booty-shaker. Whatever you want to call it, it makes you move.
The aforementioned “Wild Charms” sort of slows the flow of the album, but there is an endearing quality to Hince’s soft voice and almost nursery rhyme-like music. It’s only about a minute long anyway, and then you’re assaulted by the booming bass and rough strings of “DNA”, where Mosshart’s smoky vocals tell you that “fate with a single blow has custard-pied me now.” It’s a dark, slinky little number with big sound. “We will not be moved by it,” the duo sings, but the listener will be.
“Baby Says”, a pretty, quick ballad romanced by Hince’s Knopfler-esque guitar riffs, brings out the sweetness in Mosshart, as does “The Last Goodbye”, which relies on the strength of Mosshart’s clean, crisp approach, the swooning string section, and the melancholy piano notes. It’s one of those songs that makes you stare out the window, reflecting on past loves: “I’ve heard all you said and I love you, death/I’ve heard all you’ve said, don’t say anything.”
The Kills borrow a bit from The Kinks on “Damned if She Do”, a catchy, distorted take on 1960’s English pop-rock. “You Don’t Own the Road” is another jagged, gritty song propelled by smart percussion and a feel of driving down a highway in the American south.
The album is summed up wonderfully by “Pots and Pans”, a song that rightfully belongs in its place as the closer. It encompasses everything that makes Blood Pressures so masterful: a simplicity rocked by driving beats, the harmonious relationship between Mosshart and Hince, and their soaring, wistful vocals on lyrics like “These are the days that we’ll never forget, when the dawn dawns on you” steadily building to new heights before the subsequent fade-out . It’s soulful and familiar, drawn from different influences and spun together with enough grit and gusto to make it fresh.
The Kills have really outdone themselves with Blood Pressures. Perhaps some fans who were drawn to the more “pop” (and I use that term loosely) flair of their earlier work might find it to be a departure, but Pressures still holds true to the duo’s integrity. It’s just a bit darker, a bit moodier, and with it Mosshart has firmly cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with, a smoldering, sauntering panther on the rock scene.