The Kills – “Ash & Ice” (2016)

They trick you, The Kills.  Right from the start of their brand new 2016 studio album Ash & Ice.

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You know what you’re going to get from a new album by The Kills, right?  Jamie’s machete-attack guitar and Mosshart’s cigarettes-and-scotch-and-sexy voice.  A lo-fi, dirty vibe that still feels classy.  Riffs and that alternate between ice cold and red hot, and some sultry singing.

But they trick you right at the first song.  “Doing It to Death” starts like an EDM number.  Wait, what?  Then that initial guitar sound cuts through the electronic shell with an almost industrial sound.  But then Hince gives it to you… the guitar… the riff is a simple thing, a bit country, a bit of the blues.  So we’re good now, right?  Sounds just like The Kills.

But wait…

Alison’s voice… I feel like I’m in a Prohibition-era speakeasy in a seedy part of town drinking something called a gin and tonic but which I’m not certain contains any actual gin but boy there is something in there that gives it a kick and that burn… Sorry.  She sounds like she should have a spotlight right on her, up there on stage at the front of a smoky room, making the singing look effortless, like it was just a part of her personality that she couldn’t turn off even if she wanted to.

And that’s all in the first minute.  You’ve got 50 more or so to go.

Ash & Ice is an album by The Kills.  Except when it isn’t.  Like when its gospel roots show on “Bitter Fruit,” or their western (little “w”) influences come out in “Hum For Your Buzz,”  or the classical piano that provides the framework for “That Love,” or the surf guitar on “Black Tar.”  Sometimes it’s a whole different album entirely.  They do make a quick swing through their classic sound, though, on “Impossible Tracks,” but the rest… the rest is something a bit different.

What Ash & Ice also is is sonically dense.  And rich.  Whatever the smallest unit of time is (♠), The Kills filled every single one of those little moments with sound. Mosshart doesn’t prowl her way through Ash & Ice as she has done on so many albums before, but instead glides with the seemingly smooth ease of a world-class figure skater.  Even when she channels her punk rock vocals on “Impossible Tracks” and “Black Tar” it still seems effortless.  Not like she’s bored.  More like her voice has achieved it’s own perfection, one perfectly suited to her and only her, and she’s just realized it and is relishing its sound.  On the other end of the vocal spectrum, I don’t feel like we hear much of Jamie with the notable exception of “Echo Home,” which is too bad because he and Mosshart accompany each other so well.

I wasn’t entirely sure about Ash & Ice the first time I listened to it.  I was sure it was excellent, but I wasn’t sure if I liked it.  But after five listens, I’m sure it’s in my Top 5 list of best albums of 2016.  There’s still lot of year left, but I suspect it’s going to stay there for a good long while, maybe all the way to December 31.

(♠)  This is also known as the Planck time, which was named after physicist Max Planck, who died in 1947 and therefore never got to experience The Kills.  If he were alive today he probably wouldn’t like them, though.  Because he’d be 158 years old and wouldn’t like much of anything anymore and would probably grumble about how “the War of 1870… now THAT was a GREAT war!  Not that one that started in 1914.  They don’t have “Great” wars anymore…”