Band of Skulls, Himalayan

Band of Skulls, <i>Himalayan</i>

After Band of Skulls last release, 2012’s Sweet Sour, which I liked a fair bit but didn’t quite love, I’ve been looking forward to seeing where the band would be headed next. I’d kind of assumed they’d stick with the heavy stuff for Himalayan, their brand-new followup, with plenty more of that sludgy guitar and those sneering vocals; and don’t get me wrong, both of those things are here, in abundance. It’s just that there’s a whole lot more here, as well.

It took a little while for that difference to sink in, mind you. But hey, can you blame me? Opening track “Asleep at the Wheel” comes off like Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows” with less booze and more shrooms, a stomping, fuzzed-out, headbang-inducing rocker that merges staring-at-the-sun ’60s psych with modern heavy-ass rawk. Hell, it even echoes Hendrix’s “Manic Depression” in the break (and yes, it’s awesome). I smiled and nodded along, figuring I’d be in for eleven more tracks of the same and perfectly happy with that.

Then in steps title track “Himalayan,” though, and I start to get an inkling. The song’s surprisingly funky, believe it or not, a solid chunk of grooving-yet-heavy rock that’s got a rubbery, bounce-the-ball rhythm to it and high-pitched, ’80s-ish guitar lines…and then the whole thing comes to a sudden stop and drifts off into a cloud of fragile vocals before surging back in with snarling guitars. If anything else, it makes me think of The Black Keys’ oddball Attack & Release, albeit with more sheen and less grit.

“Hoochie Coochie” hits more like what I’d been expecting, a sleazy, bouncy, halfway-raw blast that hammers away at your eardrums with a cheeky grin; “Brothers and Sisters” is in the same ballpark, head-bobbing rock that wouldn’t sound out of place on any classic-rock station you can name and which makes me think of underappreciate fellow Brits The Subways. “I Guess I Know You Fairly Well” is a cousin, as well, although it starts slower and is way more bluesy than anything else on here — by the time it revs up into sludgy, thundering rock, I can definitely hear echoes of Sweet Sour.

The other tracks on here, though? “Cold Sweat” is quiet and somber, nowhere near what I was expecting, even if it does get dark and menacing and loud during the break. “You Are All That I Am Not” is similarly slow-burning, just gloriously pretty where the former track is murky. For its part, “I Feel Like Ten Men, Nine Dead and One Dying” heads off in a totally different direction, all countryish and windswept, with a main riff that’s either straight out of Spy Hunter or Midnight Oil’s “Beds are Burning,” I’m not sure which. It’s pretty damn unique on here, while never sounding out of place.

By far, the highlight for me has to be “Nightmares,” a fully-formed Britpop explosion of a song that comes complete with drone-melody guitars, soaring choruses, rock-solid, straight-ahead drumbeats, and sincerely low-key vocals, slouching somewhere between The Verve and Snow Patrol, with a little of Athlete’s electronicized romanticism thrown on top. And hot damn is it good, despite the fact that it sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard from Band of Skulls before.

Heck, it’s probably the most “British” thing they’ve ever done — BoS are easily the most “American”-sounding (okay, or maybe Canadian) English band you’re likely to hear this decade. And yet, it works, and beautifully so. Whatever the band decides to do next is cool by me; keep it coming, people.

[Band of Skulls is playing 5/13/14 at Warehouse Live, along with Sacco.]
(Electric Blues Records; Band of Skulls --; Band of Skulls (Facebook) --; Band of Skulls (Twitter)--; Band of Skulls (Soundcloud) --
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, May 13th, 2014. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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