Between Dust and Gold Dust – Bruiser, The Duke Spirit
Seeing good live bands in small intimate venues is akin, these days, to finding gold dust. Best enjoyed when the band is undiscovered and still playing tiny pubs and university campuses, the music can leave a bitter taste a few years down the line when the band are tiny specks in a gigantic stadium.
It’s not really a problem for UK indie rockers The Duke Spirit. They’re now onto album number three, and still seem relatively unknown outside their loyal, eclectic fan base. As a result, their current tour has seen them play fantastic venues like KOKO in North London and The Cockpit in Leeds. The fans are a fascinating bunch of the old and bald, young trendy scantily-clad scenesters and pretty much everyone in between. They prove that the band, despite never penetrating the mainstream, definitely have a unique, intriguing sound that manages to transcend age-groups and trends, and their gigs remain a wonderfully rowdy yet intimate experience.
Leaving a lazy three years between albums one and two has certainly not boded well with their critics. Most of them complain that the band has lost its momentum, whilst simultaneously levelling the accusation that has dogged the group the most; that they never really ‘took off’. Which is true, they never really did take off. But this is part of their charm, and it epitomises who they are and what they do. Unconcerned and slightly ambivalent to balance sheets and prototype, they produce music in their own time, in a slightly complacent, slightly rebellious way, playing small venues with little hype. And it suits them fine.
For an album emblazoned with just the majestic word ‘Bruiser’, it is strange that the best songs on the album by far are the slow ballads, with front woman Leila Moss departing from some of her more energetic performances and adopting a more subtle, muted tone. ‘Villain’ sees Moss chained to her piano, singing in her softly dangerous voice that could well be a soundtrack to a James Bond film; haunting and unsettling, yet powerful and self-assured. ‘Villain’ is followed by ‘Don’t Wait’, another slow number, questioning and hungry, with Moss hinting at love’s disappointments in her smoky enigmatic voice, sadly singing ‘Time changes every idea I’ve ever had/Oh, such a heavy love, rolls out like a blanket/Why must it fold up on me?’ It’s certainly an album where the slow ballads triumph over the more shouty loud numbers, and there’s no equivalent to the indie rock anthems found on albums one and two, like the brilliant ‘Love is an Unfamiliar Name’ or the iconic ‘Cuts Across The Land’. The more upbeat songs frustratingly never seem to ignite, such as ‘Everybody’s Under Your Spell’ which promises much from the outset but which is ultimately a forgettable indie piece that could have emerged in early 2000, in the dirge of the Brit-Indie scene. However, Bruiser’s softer songs make up for this; ‘Homecoming’ follows later on the album as another beautiful ballad, thick with husky voice, pounding drum and guitar, and both ‘Northbound’ and ‘Sweet Bitter Sweet’, in similar vein to ‘Villain’, cleverly balance upbeat heady choruses and thundering guitar and drums with stripped-away melancholy verses, proving that the band is still capable of making a big sound.
Leila Moss is still the glamorous rock and roll blonde banshee she ever was; a bit like a Scandinavian Ice queen; her sharp features hailed by the likes of Alexander McQueen, and her distinct style seeing her collaborate with quirky jewellers, Tatty Devine. Yet her on -stage persona is strangely but thankfully accessible. There’s no melodrama, instead she praises the supporting band, Sissy and the Blisters for not being the ‘bunch of twats’ she thought they would be. Moss is certainly a rock and roll rebel, wilder than PJ Harvey, but subtler than the likes of Lana del Rey. She does dramatic, haunting lyrics, but in a genuine way; there’s no red bra splattered with blood, and she’s not flanked by tigers on stage, (watch Del Rey’s Born to Die video if in need of clarification), but that makes her music more credible. It’s a proper rock band, with proper authentic guitar music, without the predictable artificial soulless sound that increasingly seems to define amateur newbie indie bands on the scene, like Metronomy and Foster the Kids. It’s intelligent music, albeit music that requires perseverance and it possibly explains the title of the album; they’re pretty hard survivors, and they’re here to stay. The great songs on the album are truly great, but at the same time the album is a bit like a shopping trip to TK Maxx, you do have to persevere with some of their more mediocre stuff in order to find the gems. It leads you to think that had The Duke Spirit combined all three of their albums, they would have produced one truly sublime one, and could have just discarded the rest.
Still, if you like to work hard for your music, you like your venues small, your rockers clad in leather and a blonde howling front woman with a soaring vocal range, all completely overlooked by the more dramatic Lana de Reys and Florence Welchs of modern time, you’ll love Bruiser.