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.
Opening track and lead single “Doing it to Death” tips its hat to dancier days. Mosshart flexes her vocal grit in an attempt to up the emotional stakes, but the signature drum and guitar arrangement doesn’t provide enough leverage, overcrowded yet lacking vitality. This record is the duo’s first since 2011’s Blood Pressures, and the interim included a long and arduous medical journey for Hince as he recuperated from multiple surgeries on his hand. That fact that does not seem to impact his guitar playing, but the rust may have snuck into the songwriting process. Mosshart was also busy with other projects, most notably with The Dead Weather but also working on her visual art practice and moving to Nashville.
The tension of rediscovering their magic comes through throughout the record. Frantic, addled drums stand out on “Hard Habit to Break” but fail to connect to Mosshart’s strained voice. The track, though, does serve as an example of this record’s affinity for blues rock, a space that has been packed to the brim since The Kills last put out a record. Bands like The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes — though not mining exactly the same territory — get to their arena-ready hooks quickly, but the songs here are often over-long, repetitive, and arduous, breaking apart just when a satisfactory climax is within reach.
Near the album’s close, “Echo Home” slides into a soft duet of sorts between the two. Though it took reaching track 12, it’s good to hear The Kills finally sound like they are in the same room rather than opposite ends of the earth. “So won’t you come home and make it alright,” they sing. “Won’t you echo back and make it fine/ Maybe you’ll go out of your mind/ You can lose it all if you wanna.” Beyond their closer connection in the music, the lyrics finally convey vulnerability and some simple connection. Even still, the track doesn’t sound particularly like what we’ve come to know as The Kills, instead more like a beach-ready take from someone like The xx.
Ash & Ice lacks cohesive identity. Any record with Mosshart’s vocals and Hince’s guitar will be identifiable as a product of The Kills, but the record both feels inconsistent and as if the songs all blend together. Just when you settle in to the sameness, a jarring, unappealing turn rips you away. Though Ash & Ice is composed of pieces designed for the radio and meant for emotive release, the whole thing comes pouring out into a puree of alt rock trends. Even more frustrating, these alt rock trends have only become stereotypical in part because of The Kills’ once avant-garde risk-taking.
Essential Tracks: “Echo Home”