Murder by Death are back with their sixth studio album, and it's their moodiest album yet. It's a stark contrast to their last record, Good Morning, Magpie--returning to, while exploring, more layers of atmospheric tones. With each album(excluding Red of Tooth...), I always found myself needing to give them multiple rounds to fully appreciate what I was listening to--Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is no exception. Bit by bit I'm falling in love with this record. However, it does stumble at the beginning.
One thing Murder by Death have always done right, were their openers. Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon has a hard time taking flight. The opener, "My Hill" could have been a great introduction to the record, but even at just two and a half minutes, it's too long. It's not a bad song by any means. it just happens to be slow and lack any real pay off. Then, it almost feels like the record starts over with "Lost River." The track written by cellist, Sarah Balliet, finds influence from the band's first album, and then leads into the chugging sound of Matt Armstrong's bass on "Straight at the Sun." The two back-to-back give you a better sense of those 1-2-punches Murder by Death have pulled off flawlessly in the past as opposed to "My Hill" followed by "Lost River." The next track, "No Oath, No Spell" shares a chromosome or two with the material found on Good Morning, Magpie. It's upbeat and features melodious vocals. We then come to the album's first single, "I Came Around." It's a no-brainer why they chose this track for the single. There's no song catchier on the album==perhaps the catchiest single they've had since "Brother."
The latter half of the album gets more diverse. They pick up the pace with, "Hard World," which has Samantha Crain lending some of her vocals to the track. Musically, it's an interesting tone to hear from Murder by Death--sounding as if they drew influence from The Gaslight Anthem. However, it's not half as interesting as "Ditch Lilly." If Murder by Death had written a song with The Beatles during their White Album phase, this is what I imagine it would have sounded like. The band returns to the roaring 20's-esque sound similar to "On The Dark Streets Below." with the fiendish number, "The Curse of Elkhart," while "Ramblin'," throws in a bit of rockin' Americana.
The only song that doesn't seem to fit on the album is the instrumental track, "Queen Mab." As much as I love Murder by Death's instrumentals--and always look forward to them--this one just feels out of place. It comes at a bad time on the album and doesn't quite share the same ambiance as the rest of the record. There's a certain chill to it. The chills continue on "Go to the Light." Although the song's a little dull, I think fans of Like The Exorcist... will appreciate the blend of old with new. The same pace follows through to "Oh, to be an Animal," but it's much more a Lounge number. The record kind of regains focus on the closer, "Ghost Fields." The accordion has been sneaking in throughout the album, but it plays its biggest role here to enforce its wayfaring tone.
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon loses itself halfway through, but finds itself in the end. For most albums, this would be a problem. There's something about Adam Turla's writing that actually works in its favor though. The reoccurring wander and lonesome themes that appear in Turla's storytelling go along with the different styles as a whole. It's like you're following a character into a number of different saloons that are playing different music. It's always exciting to see where Murder by Death will go with their albums--as they'll always do something different--and Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was definitely something fresh while continually building off their previous works and now, I'm ready for another.