The Duke Spirit’s “Bruiser” Is So Well Named

And so let us stipulate that the Duke Spirit is one of Tulip Frenzy’s favorite bands, and has been so since we first heard the title track from their debut, Cuts Across The Land , which came out six years ago.  In 2008 they released on these shores a follow-up album, Neptune, which was less magical, but nonetheless quite powerful.  We’ve been waiting ever since for that make’r’break third album, and when we found out that Bruiser, released last month in Albion, wasn’t being released in the States ’til sometime in November, well, we felt we had no recourse but to pass the hat around the office.  Once we had enough coin, we sent off to London for what used to be the sweetest words in the rock hound’s lexicon: a British import.

Bruiser has arrived, and it packs a wallop.  The Duke Spirit is not a particularly fancy band — they are a rock band (no real need for a modifier, though we’ll throw in the letters “alt” lest anyone confuse ’em for, like, Def Leppard), with two guitars, bass and drums, and in Liela Moss, they have my favorite female singer in the world.  Save for, well, Neko Case.  And Sally Timms.  They don’t layer acoustic guitars and glockenspiels into the mix.  Instead, they drive over you with a dark blue Range Rover.  Their music is powerful, and stylish, and very direct.  Six years since their first album, it is possible that the Duke Spirit have reached musical middle age, since Bruiser is perhaps a bit thick around the middle.  Yes, this is a darkly melodic album whose songs often begin with the bass and drums accelerating into about third gear before we hear Liela’s gorgeous voice or the two guitarists crash the party.  There’s a reason they didn’t name this album Floats Like A Hummingbird or else Stings Like A Bee.  A heavyweight British bruiser Bruiser turns out to be.

‘Cept, of course, for Liela’s voice.  There is that. If Liela’s voice were a character in literature, it would be Katje in Gravity’s Rainbow: flirtatious, incredibly sexy, continental, chamelon-like, dangerous, and tough.  If Liela’s voice had a face, though, it would be the young Jacqueline Bisset: beautiful, intriguing, though not particularly mysterious.  There is sometimes, we have to admit, an astringency to Liela’s tones, and she has a way of treating a man who’s pissed her off with the dismissive dispatch of a British nanny.  But what’s also great about the way she sings is the almost perverse phrasing, the defiant tonal shifts: just when you think she’s going to take a note higher, she takes it lower.  Did not see that coming! She’s that athlete whose canniness is built upon incredibly natural moves.

Is the whole band Liela?  Far from it.  We love the way either guitarist will only play five notes where ten could fit, love the Oasis-like rumble of the rhythm section, the Garbage-like presence (with no discernible electronics, other than mikes and amps.)  What we love most of all are the songs. On Neptune, we could easily imagine “The Step And The Walk” used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, or maybe one for a new Jaguar.  (This is a compliment.) Since it’s taken so long for Bruiser to come out, we’ve had the lovely “Don’t Wait” to listen to for many months, and “Everything Is Under Your Spell” came out earlier this year.  Either song can get under your skin and settle in for a long stay.

With The Duke Spirit, what you see is what you get: a band informed by punk and the blues, but determined to hew to the middle of the alternarock genre, with killer songs that are plenty catchy, and a singer whose voice you want to just pet.  Bruiser takes on all comers, even if it moves a little slower than did The Duke Spirit’s earlier work.  It’s taking waaaaay too long to get to America.  When it gets here, pounce.

One Response to “The Duke Spirit’s “Bruiser” Is So Well Named”

  1. […] After reading this review on Tulip Frenzy… […]

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