Gritty Cuts shows the Duke’s Spirits

If nothing else, The Duke Spirit have balls. In a world post Franz Ferdinand and the Killers, it takes gall to make a debut album like Cuts Across the Land, an album that honors grit over sheen, noise over groove, and muscle over metrosexualism. “Cuts Across the Land” roughly sounds like what P.J. Harvey’s Dry would have sounded like after chugging a four pack of Red Bull. The Duke Spirit tap a lot of the same resources Harvey did 14 years ago, channeling the fuzzy guitars and darkness of the Jesus and Mary Chain, the unsettling intensity and cool of the Velvet Underground and the haunting soul and guts of Patti Smith. As a result, Cuts Across the Land is running on pure adrenaline, a mix of punk and blues alike, relying heavily on minor key tonality, a wall of white noise, and the emotive vocals of lead singer Leila Moss.Critics have doted a bit on Moss, mainly because she is a woman. But it’s her fiery stage presence and in-your-face energy that has caused critics to chart her rightful place in rock goddess history with similar front women like Nico, Debbie Harry and Karen O. Once you can get past that The Duke Spirit aren’t another Brit band rehashing an ’80s sound and that their lead singer is blonde and female, you’ll discover that they aren’t really revolutionaries at all. And they aren’t claiming to be.It’d be misleading to deny The Duke Spirit any contemporary kindred just because they don’t fit neatly into the current British model of Franz/Bloc/Kaiser. In fact, The Duke Spirit have many current musical peers-the most obvious being the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. While The Duke Spirit has yet to turn out a song as chillingly beautiful as “Maps,” the creepy, sparse “You Were Born Inside My Heart” applies the same method to a different message. And “Bottom of the Sea” subtly sneaks into territory Karen O hasn’t explored so far-surf rock. Both “You Were Born Inside My Heart” and “Bottom of the Sea” are impassioned, aching slow downs, but The Duke Spirit work best with their foot on the gas pedal. Opening and title track “Cuts Across the Land” seems to set their champion pace with its thumping drums and steady chord progression, and by the second track, “Stubborn Stitches,” the adrenaline is surging. The real kicker follows “Bottom of the Sea.” Just as you’ve relaxed into the heat daze of “Sea,” “Fades the Sun” provides a rhythmic assault that is the musical equivalent of a kick in the gut. As a lyrical beast, “Cuts Across the Land” rears the dual, biting heads of raw feeling and reflective wit.”Darling, You’re Mean,” captures the sting of unrequited love with “I’m trying to catch you but you don’t realize/I’m such a freak/I’m trying to grab you but you don’t understand/I’m so weak.”The music may be dark, but a tinge of hope comes out in the lyrics. “Lovetones” opens with Moss repeating “Always back to someone/Always back to the sun,” following The Duke Spirit’s frequent references to light and sun. The most hopeful, and perhaps best, track on the album is the controlled mess of “Lion Rip,” which promises and suggests “If you want it, you can have it/But you have to feed this feeling now with all the sparks of your fire,” backed by The Duke Spirit’s typical scratchy guitars and brawny rhythm. It’s songs like “Lion Rip” that cause you to forget that The Duke Spirit are a young band-formed less than five years ago-still trying to catch their footing in a modern music scene that must confuse the hell out of them.But they have a whole career to figure it out, anyway. Cuts Across the Land is just the beginning.

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