Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The day prior to Band of Skulls arriving here in Rock Island for a Daytrotter session, the three-piece from Southampton, England, was in Los Angeles, California, messing around on the back-lot at Universal Studios before playing a private set for their publisher. Guitarist/singer Russell Marsden, bassist/singer Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward then boarded a red-eye flight from the West Coast to the Moline International Airport for the session the following afternoon. They were bleary-eyed and they must have been quite weary of all the movement, the turbulence and the unsettling existence of never being anywhere near the city you were moving around in the day before. It had been like this for months and they were the walking wounded, though they were still full of the steam that comes at us full-force on the magnificent debut album, "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey." It's an album that, on the same day that they were kicking around Hollywood, they found out was listed as one of People magazine's top 10 albums of the year - an interesting act to pull off. It's a record that's all polished roughness, that's all melodic inferno. It shows Marsden and Richardson sharing lead vocals and trading off on them with grace, but the general feeling that one immediately gets is something like what we felt when we were hearing the eponymous Foo Fighters record if there had been a Jack and Meg White to reference vaguely in the writing and arranging of it. It's a fistfight between a prowling sinfulness and a theme of not knowing if the head and soul are screwed on or installed properly. There is an understandable amount of mental confusion and identity crisis coating a lot of the lyrics that Marsden and Richardson give us. Marsden sings on "Impossible, "I am a man cause you said I am," alluding to being cut out of a family photo, but the mixed feelings don't begin to end there. On "I Know What I Am," a chugging anthem that feels like a cyclone and a dark alley, the two singers talk about cutting their teeth, being in debt and getting caught up in that head-spinning machine of having strangers assuming they know things about you before they know a goddamn thing about you. It's a song that reaches into the depths of all that's holy to a person - all that's personally holy, personally religious and cherished, though having nothing to do with religion whatsoever. It's a song that explores the simplicity that it takes one to reduce a man or woman down to anecdotes and sound bites, to artificial pronouncements and simulated reality. Band of Skulls show a staggering and beautiful versatility on "Baby Darling Doll Face Honey," an album that smokes itself silly and still checks in with sorrow-filled tales of golden fear of being misread. They make a plea to just be left alone, untouched with their prettiest chorus of the album, on "Fires," singing, "We are fires in the night/Let us bathe you in our light," as if to suggest that just looking, not touching, not worrying about what's to become of these flaming fires is best. There are the women who come from humble beginnings and beat-up cars, but are changed by material possessions and wind up being "death by diamonds and pearls." Richardson offers this line on "Honest:" "You've got to be honest, you've got to be guarded/Right on the inside that is the hardest game to play." It's a lifelong pursuit and here's an album's worth of food for thought, three people working to see and be seen in the truest of lights, whatever those may be.
Band of Skulls Official Site
Shangri La Music