Reviews Murder By Death Red of Tooth and Claw

Murder By Death

Red of Tooth and Claw

With their fourth full-length album, Murder by Death has finally brought all their varying influences together. Each of the band’s previous recordings focused on a general indie rock sound, but they also flirted with various musical styles: folk, country, Americana, classical, and post-punk, among others. But with Red of Tooth and Claw all the band’s previous flirtations and even some new romances have come together into a sound that is truly unique and, dare I say, brilliant.

Red of Tooth and Claw begins with the “Comin’ Home” and you are instantly surrounded by the bellowing vocals of Adam Turla. Low-lying basslines provided by Matt Armstrong hang off just before everything erupts with Dagan Thogerson’s punching drums and Turla’s jangly guitars. You’ve heard this before? How could I forget the element that makes Murder by Death so distinctive? Sarah Balliet’s string arrangements add a sensual emotion to the band’s music as the notes dance around the rest of the music. Here on the opener Balliet also contributes skills on what sounds like that of an old organ, given the music a vintage sound.

The album continues with “Ball and Chain,” a song that is rather evocative of Nick Cave’s catalog with its bouncing rhythms, playful pianos, lively guitars, and unique percussion. Though not an instrument per se, the emotive vocals and somber words of the song help unfold the visuals of a story. The stories continue with “Rum Brave,” a song that is similar in structure, sound, and subject matter to the band’s Who Will Survive, And What Will Be Left of Them? with its orchestral-meets-indie rock mixture. The guitars really drive the song and quicken the pace with even a few post-punk drawn riffs incorporated here and there. Listening to Red of Tooth and Claw one often references lyrical phrases and themes from previous recordings, something that suggests a deeper connection between the entirety that is the Murder by Death catalog.

“Fuego!” is the album’s first single, and with good reason. The chorus is really infectious, maybe not in a Kelly Clarkson kind of way, but it’s got a nice hook to it. The song is centered on Turla’s vocal delivery, which has a sensual swagger to it - something I never really thought of until I heard this song; then again the ladies did love Johnny Cash. On “Theme (For Ennio Morricone)” the band delivers exactly what you would expect based on the name. The song boasts a film score sound that could have easily been used on any number of spaghetti-westerns.

“A Second Opinion” tones things down and eases the pace. This is actually where the band seems to lose their focus on the album. On previous releases the band was capable of pushing the album forward even if the songs moved like molasses; here the slower-paced songs do seem to a drag just a tad. This would be the minor blemish on what could have been a perfect album.

Fortunately the majority of Red of Tooth and Claw moves at a quickened, or at least an upbeat, pace. “Steal Away” picks things back up; I especially love the mixture of the acoustic guitars into the song. “Ash” is perhaps my favorite track on the entire album. The song balances the classical sound and melancholic attitude that is suggested through the cello as well as the swagger and rock and roll vibe of the guitars. Acting as the mediator between the two is Turla, who delivers a spectacular vocal performance.

“The Black Spot” is another of the more subdued songs on the album. “’52 Ford” builds really well, starting from a mid-pace and ever increasing as the song unfolds. Unfortunately, just as it begins to rock, bam, it’s over. It’s kind of a disappointing end to what could have been an except opportunity for the band to jam out.

Album-closer “Spring Break 1899” brings another influence under the Murder by Death banner. The song rounds out the album with a 1950’s doo wap meets rock vibe - think Elvis. Following the song is a short piano outro, which those who pay close attention to detail may recognize from the band’s sophomore release, Who Will Survive, and What Will be Left of Them? This only adds further fuel to a hidden cohesiveness to the band’s catalog.

Red of Tooth and Claw is long enough to leave you satisfied, but at the same time it has you itching to hear more. There is no doubt in my mind that Murder by Death has delivered what will rate as one of the top albums of 2008 in Red of Tooth and Claw.

9.0 / 10Michael
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