I first heard The Duke Spirit (Liela Moss – vocals, keys, percussion, Toby Butler – bass, Luke Ford – guitars, Daniel Higgins – guitars, organ, Olly Betts – drums) on BBC 6 Music (the greatest radio station in the world) somewhere around 2010 when they played the title track from the Duke Spirit’s 2005 debut album Cuts Across the Land. I nearly wept and thought, “Where has this band been my whole life?”
I found their 2008 release, Neptune, in a bargain CD bin at a Bloomington, Indiana wrecka stow. It opens with a brief hymn that repeats the lines “I do believe in something you know.” You can take that a couple different ways: Either Moss is telling us she has faith in something we know as truth; or she’s defiantly telling someone, perhaps us, that she has faith despite what we might believe.
The first full track, “Send a Little Love Token,” sums up everything I love about the band: Powerful vocals that evoke Patti Smith, hammering piano, big drums, and shoegaze guitar. “The Step and the Whale” is about Moss realizing too late that she’s sabotaged a relationship. It’s a sharp song for her voice, Butler’s bass sounds like something from an old Cure record, and the rest of the band puts down stuff the Jesus and Mary Chain would envy.
“Dog Roses” might be Moss remembering why she sabotaged the relationship and remembering that it was a good idea after all: “I hope you stay in charge of your mouth…When nothing’s fluid you drink yourself through it. Outside you chalk-draw yourself.” “Into the Fold,” a good rocker, is about rebuilding a relationship (“This heart could heal, if you had courage just to say what you feel.”).
“This Ship Was Built to Last” is a combination sea shanty and shoegaze track. Trust me, it works. The combination of the distorted, echoing guitar (especially after the epic bridge), Moss’ chanting vocals, and coxswain drumming is excellent.
Someone must’ve pissed off Moss when she wrote “Wooden Heart,” because it’s a searing diatribe against a former lover, but delivered with a torch song blues feel. “I would understand your heart if I could feel it,” she sings as guitars reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine riffs snake around her.
She’s not angry in “You Really Wake Up the Love in Me.” Quite the opposite, actually. “You taste so good today you’d get love from anyone,” she sings as Betts puts down some of his best licks on the record and the guitars go into full psychedelic madness by the end. “My Sunken Treasure” is borderline power pop. “Lassoo,” with its nice horn section, is the excellent power rock the Duke Spirit does so well, combining fierce vocals with raw rock instrumentation. It continues with “Neptune’s Call,” in which Moss is feeling frisky again (“I tasted the salt on you. Now I have a tongue tattoo.”). The closer, “Sovereign,” is almost a lullaby.
The Duke Spirit have a new album, Kin, due out later this year. I look forward to it. The first three released tracks are a nice blend of their styles: shoegaze, soul, rock. Neptune picks up where Cuts Across the Land left off, and the band is still moving forward.
Keep your mind open.
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