The Kills: Midnight Boom

Kai Jones

The Kills' latest shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn't dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.

The Kills

Midnight Boom

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2008-03-18
UK Release Date: 2008-03-10

Decadent, sullen and minimal, the Kills have always been a band seemingly out-of-sorts with the industry they've chosen. Their ragged garage blues and photobooth posing suggest an art installation or some conceptual burst of freedom in an underground movie, not the austere album/tour order of the music business.

The music is as raw as their image, cheekbone-sharp guitars and death black hair. And interestingly for a band that seems to exist in duotone -- they have always advocated the artistry of their photography alongside the music -- first impressions are of a band devoid of colour, stripped down to it's bare necessities: vocals, guitar, drum machine. And yet with every Kills release you soon realise how deceiving their minimalist image is. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince's refusal to follow the rules and ditch the drums and bass does more than guarantee any income is split a clean 50-50. Subtle multi-tracking and inventive use of that sparse drum machine ensures the Kills have more layers waiting to be stripped away than most bands who rely on the usual drum/bass rhythm section. The resulting sound is visceral, subversive and immediate.

Midnight Boom is the Kills third full-length release, coming three years after No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side, from 2003. When they first emerged, carving out a niche for themselves with a distinct style and sound that knowingly referenced other artists such as Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and PJ Harvey, the Kills were joyously welcomed and both records were well received. For a band who limit themselves in their choice of instruments and now on their third album, you might ask how they can progress. The answer is an album which shows a maturity that defies its limitations, yet crucially doesn't dispel with the rich swagger and sass that gives the Kills their intensity.

It's a brave band who open a record with 12 seconds of hushed dial tone. Over those initial seconds comes the eager tapping of numbers. It's unclear who's calling who but that dial tone soon builds into the effortless beat of "U.R.A. Fever", an immediate sexual sway of a song, dripping with the Kills typically-subversive chemistry. Mosshart and Hince taunt each other with "You only ever had her when you had a fever" while discordant guitars lash violently at the pace of the song. It's clear that the Kills have lost none of that raw tension, but it's also interesting to note the difference drafting in producer Alex Epton (Armani XXXchange from genre-blending sleaze merchants Spank Rock) has made to the Kills sound.

Crucially Epton hasn't pulled-out his usual record chainsaw and torn apart the Kills sound. Brought in for additional production, the Kills have drawn on Epton's beat-making skills to add extra texture to the drumbeats. The result is more character, more intensity, and it's beautiful. "Last Day of Magic" slides along on a cool-ass beat and a whispering backwards hi-hat, Mosshart sounding like Peaches at her most temptress, the Kills spitting out more and more erotic charge with every bar. While the fabulous "Sour Cherry" with its "I'm the only sour cherry on your fruit stand" line and tongue-in-cheek swagger, seemingly exploits what sounds like the under-used rhythmic qualities of chopsticks.

The atmosphere here is strung tight, hinting at the sexual energy Mosshart and Hince give off onstage. But the Kills are also a group that understand the Tom Waits vintage of beauty in melancholy. So yes, they're all hip and sass at the best times, but they also know how to claw at your heart strings.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the haunting "Black Balloon", a classic Kills ballad that begins by recalling the dry blues of "Rodeo Town" from No Wow. “You can hold on but I wouldn’t waste your time / Farewell my black balloon,” coos Mosshart. The song’s already lighter than air when half-way Mosshart breaks into an ethereal “aaah-aaah-aaah", and the song lifts skyward along with said balloon, Mosshart calling out after it, suggesting some latent erotic union: “Farewell my black balloon / Let the weather have its way with you.”

Elsewhere Midnight Boom is such a ride. "Cheap and Cheerful", "Getting Down" and "What New York Used to Be" all bounce along with vigour that makes the album such a joy. It feels free and rebellious, driven on an urgency and playfulness that evokes Jean Belmondo‘s character in Godard‘s À Bout de Souffle. In fact, the jump-cuts, bold energy and fresh tale of modern urban life of À Bout de Souffle make it a perfect celluloid sibling for the Kills.

The Kills talk much about the influence of art and film on their music. Hince and Mosshart have said they drew inspiration for Midnight Boom from a 1960s documentary, Pizza Pizza Daddy-O, about the playground rhymes of inner city American children. “We just started building rhythms around those and had this concept of coming up with modern-day playground songs,” Hince told Domino Records. “Cos they’re really quite dark. Cutting people’s thumbs off, kicking people in the face, throwing ‘em down stairs. I kinda liked it. So I got this old MPC-60 hip hop drum sequencer and just started making rhythms on that. And these playground songs ended up as Midnight Boom.”

Fed to the skewed guitar and beats, the influence of these ghostly patty-cake rhymes from 40 years ago litter Midnight Boom, from the gorgeous drive of "Tape Song" to the art-punk of "Alphabet Pony". And they make perfect sense, shaping the record’s consistency and adding to the Kills’ extremely infectious build.

The Kills bleed cool and it runs darker and cooler than ever before on Midnight Boom. They’re a soundtrack waiting for a road movie; If they didn't exist you can guarantee they’d turn up in a David Lynch film somewhere, busking on the side of a distant highway under lonely neon and a half-moon.

Midnight Boom finishes with "Goodnight Bad Morning", a song so full of early-morning melancholy it rivals even the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" for sheer crow-black blues. Over a rocking-chair beat and soft-strum of acoustic guitar Mosshart and Hince whisper "....See it in everyone / Like a lost idea under lightbulb sun / Your eyes ready for take-off melt in your head / What a beautiful state we're in." It is a song that could have been the highlight on any Mazzy Star or Leonard Cohen album but it closes the Kills most remarkable record to date, staying with you long after it ends, Hince's slow humming still resonating in your senses, the cold shiver still working it's way down your spine.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.