[27 July 2009]
Band of Skulls are a bit rough around the edges. This is surely something they’d be proud of. On Baby Darling Doll Face Honey, their debut, the band specializes in boozy stomps, strained yelps, and fuzzed-out guitar riffs as wide as a Georgia Highway. Pure rock and roll, one might say: messy and loud and featuring intentionally-poorly-thought-out lyrics (not to imply that “Hotel/Taco Bell”, from their “I Know What I Am” is not an inspired couplet). But then—and isn’t there always a “but”—you’ll remember that I said they “specialize” in the above. They don’t, unfortunately, limit their practice to it.
In fact, the record is something of a mish-mash of three or four styles, recalling as many different artists, with songs written by all three band members and sung by two of them. If that sentence was dizzying to read, imagining hearing the album. It’s as if every cast member of Friends got to write and direct a different scene in a single episode. It’s as if every third letter on this page were a different color. It’s just, shall we say, a bit jarring.
Some of this is surely due to poor curatorial instincts. The band proudly announces in their press notes that they formed as a band in Southampton, England, just months before they began recording their debut album. Yet the album features 16 songs, a suspiciously high number even for a band firing on all cylinders, let alone one where the members barely know each other. Some of these tracks could probably have been saved for the solo projects, the tour, or, at least, for the next record. This is just to say that there are the makings of a focused, tight rock record here, but you have to dig for it amidst everything else.
Tracks like “I Know What I Am”, “Light of the Morning”, “Death by Diamonds and Pearls”, and a few others are the real gems. Blistering, echo-y, stomp-alongs, it’s not hard to picture the band, lovingly tattooed, belting them out in a moldy basement to a room of a few dozen smelly degenerates. They’re real, and what the band does best.
But then there’s a song like “Fires”. It starts off like a hard-rocking, hollow-bodied-guitar-reliant outtake from Radiohead’s The Bends, but by the first chorus it’s added a bit of Stars-ish indie/emo, then it veers a bit more into Southern rock, and then it’s back to aping Thom Yorke again by the next verse. If it sounds confusing, well, it is. “Impossible” tries to combine the martial snares of U2 or Coldplay with some Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-style wailing, and, yes, just a hint of Southern rock. And there’s “Honest”, a sensitive, acoustic guitar meditation sung by bassist Emma Richardson, who has a few other similar tracks on the record (“Dull Gold Heart”, and others).
Songs like this aren’t bad. There’s isn’t a “bad” song on Baby Darling Doll Face Honey (which is, by the way, the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity of album titles). There’s just not a unified sound, and by extension, a unified group of artists behind it. At bottom, Baby Darling Doll Face Honey is a promising debut from a band with more than one talented songwriter and more than a few ideas rolling around their collective heads. Here’s hoping they find their legs and refine their focus by the second record.