At the same time, the success The Kills have so far experienced is nothing to thumb your nose at. After a five-year hiatus, the band released Ash & Ice, and remain a flagship band on the British indie Domino Recording Co., whose roster also includes such stars as Arctic Monkeys, Animal Collective and Franz Ferdinand. Moreover, the tandem’s last album, 2011’s Blood Pressures, was their biggest seller to date, cracking the charts in most western countries, including the U.S., where it hit No. 37 on the Billboard 200. Still, this pales in comparison to the success singer Alison Mosshart has attained in her other group, the Jack White-anchored juggernaut known as The Dead Weather.
Ash & Ice represents a significant advance for The Kills. It’s bigger and busier, even verging on chaotic at times
It has to be pointed out that Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince are fine with this. After all, their cult status is largely by design. They have never much cared for playing the publicity game. Historically, Hince and Mosshart (who early on went by the pseudonyms Hotel and VV respectively) have granted far fewer interviews than other groups with similar name recognition. In the interviews that do exist, the pair come off as coolly distant and cryptic.
“We were quite firmly from that mold of Fugazi and Sonic Youth, and we didn’t think too much about commercial success,” Hince toldGQ. “It was never on our agenda to climb the rungs of the ladder. It’s a little sad to break it down to such a cliché, but we just wanted to be the sort of band who can do exactly what we want.”
That anarchic streak courses through The Kills’ idiosyncratic brand of garage rock. They aren’t classic-bred tunesmiths like The Black Keys or The White Stripes (with whom they’ve been erringly been compared). Nor do they go for the fuzz-drenched bubblegum tantrums of the Black Lips, Ty Segall and their ilk.
The duo prefer to cloak themselves in moody detachment and abstruse experimentation. Their minimalist song structures reflect a love for the simplicity of vintage garage rock and their frequent use of drum machines and electronics reflects a deep appreciation for cyborg primitivism. When you get right down to it, Mosshart and Hince are devout iconoclasts who don’t believe rock is something meant to be preserved and honored but rather abused, subverted and overthrown. This is as true of their earliest, most lo-fi albums as it is their latest.
With recording split between a rented home in Los Angeles and New York’s legendary Electric Lady Studios, Ash & Ice represents a significant advance for The Kills. It’s bigger and busier, even verging on chaotic at times. Drawing on influences as diverse as dancehall and gospel, the songs aren’t composed so much as built up in layers, like heavily textured paintings. In the past, the band tended to accentuate the fact they were a duo by sticking to a lean, razor-wire sound. This time around they flesh things out with programming (percussive and melodic) and an increased reliance on live drums.
Another striking change is how Hince’s previously jagged fretwork has taken on a chunkier, rhythmic presence — something that wasn’t by choice. One of the reasons why The Kills took a five year break after Blood Pressures had to do with the guitarist undergoing a succession of operations to repair a hand that got caught in a car door. It forced him to devise a new approach to playing.
“[I had] to go along this sick surgery path of trying to have a tendon transplant,” he told The Line of Best Fit. “There was one moment when it became such a pain in the ass that I just figured I might have to be more of a producer than a guitar player.”
Mosshart, too, has changed. On top of everything else, Ash & Ice is a testament to her maturation. Mind you, she always was a total badass, but ever since she began working with White and The Dead Weather her range, emotionally and stylistically, has expanded by leaps and bounds. The young, disheveled punk who first hooked up with Hince in 2000 is now a mesmerizing vocalist who commands the spotlight.
The Kills may never become A-listers like their peers, but one thing is for sure: If you want to know what killer rock ’n’ roll in 2016 sounds like, then hip yourself to Ash & Ice.