The Kills continue to amaze with Blood Pressures, their fourth album and another mostly successful attempt to wrench effective material from a barebones method of hollow attitude and instrumental minimalism. Perpetuating a high-wire act that essentially involves a small bag of tricks shaken up a little differently each time, the Kills write songs that are invariably concave structures, spacious echo chambers for lurching, fuzzed-out guitar and softly staccato talk-singing. They’re the kind of songs that start to wear on the nerves after a second listen, only to reveal themselves as not as complex but somehow still captivating after a little more attention. It’s the kind of thing that seems like it should get old very fast, yet the band keeps drawing blood from this stone, readjusting and tweaking their formula.
Further evidence of how adept the band has been at handling these elements comes via “supergroup” the Dead Weather, the meeting point for the commonalities of the Kills’ Alison Mosshart and the White Stripes’ Jack White. That group’s approach is parallel to that of the Kills, with just enough of a spin not to feel derivative. White plays an impresario’s role in his strident, often primary reinterpretation of basic roots-rock elements. Mosshart, however, is an overt seductress, growling and imprecating rather than really singing, cagily shaping each spitefully spat word.
Starting with 2005’s No Wow, the Kills have produced three almost skeletal meditations on the kind of black-hearted, fatalist sound originally fashioned by artists like Nick Cave. Each has fiddled with the proportions of straightforward stomp and slinky ambience: No Wow was sharp and spindly, ruled by the unsettling tremor of it’s omnipresent drum machines; Midnight Boom was in some ways a step in an even sparser direction, full of empty spaces and off-kilter melodies; and Blood Pressures pushes back into more forceful territory, leaning on noise and distortion and dropping most pretenses of subtlety. Opener “Future Starts Slow” has Mosshart and partner Jamie Hince tracked alongside each other under a twitching mix of real and artificial drums, singing “You can blow what’s left of my right mind” either to each other or some invisible third party. It’s the kind of affected, self-aware bit of gloomy attitude that the group pulls off despite its cheesiness. “Satellite,” a song about isolation and lost love, plays out as a staggering, ominous waltz.
Blood Pressures works mostly because of how fully the duo believes in the junk they’re spitting out. “DNA” turns getting a custard pie in the face into a verb, and a nasty sounding one at that. In most cases, trying to mix snarl in with this kind of absurdity would sound ridiculous, but the Kills commit fully to their methods, an essential ingredient that allows them to keep fine-tuning their approach, even as it stays nominally the same.