Yet again, the proverbial "art college" spawns a tasty musical treat. London garage rock quartet The Duke Spirit's lead singer and guitarist met there; after adding a couple friends, the band's current lineup came to life in 2003. Lead singer Liela Moss is a powerhouse, a secret weapon raised on rock, soul, and blues. Her voice is throaty, deep, and unfailingly evocative. Backed by loud guitars and sharp drums, she's never lost in the din, which is a good thing: in The Duke Spirit formula, Moss is clearly the moneymaker. Sexy British chick with smoldering eyes and smoky pipes roaring hyper-hooky rock songs=yummy.
Released in 2005, Duke Spirit debut Cuts Across The Land touts fifteen tracks (including three bonus tracks), which may come across as a tad excessive, but the tunes are so damn likable that you'll find the largesse forgivable. It's a toothsome collection of shimmering, grinding treasures, equal parts Pixies and Shangri-Las -- with a little bit of Troggs and Sonics thrown in for spice -- and easily one of the most distinctive LPs of the decade.
The LP opens with a bang, its title track immediately drumming its way into your good graces. Moss's throaty voice kicks in with a sexy lilt and cute British accent, and if you're not won over by that, perhaps you'll fall for her Stevie Nicks-rivaling tambourine talents. Normally, I'm pretty annoyed by singers who don't play an instrument, but this chick sort of seduces you into thinking the tambourine is a totally legitimate "instrument," if only for the duration of this record. In her defense, Moss also plays harmonica and piano, and frankly, once you hear her sing, you'll wonder how she can make room for any instrumentation at all with that larger-than-life voice.
"Love Is An Unfamiliar Name," an album standout, breezes in with an almost Serge Gainsbourg beat, which is of course cut to shreds by Moss' penetrating vocals. This song really takes off around the 2-minute mark, and ends with such catchy ooh-ooh's I dare you to not sing along. The Duke Spirit keeps the ride going with another winner, "Darling, You're Mean," featuring Moss suggestively and repeatedly belting, "Ooh, I'm so cheap." "Win Your Love" ups the sexy with even more seductive lyrics: "Yeah, I know those eyes/Now I want those bones."
The band slows down and takes a breath for "Hello To The Floor," Moss's tambourine sounding more Mazzy Star than Fleetwood Mac. "Bottom Of The Sea" is perhaps the best song on the record, opening with haunting "Wave Of Mutilation" guitar strands. Moss sounds laconically pissed at some idiot who treated her like garbage: "I swam to the bottom of the sea for you...So long, my lovely."
"Fades The Sun" is relentless with the beats; just try not to shake your ass along with it. "You Were Born Inside My Heart" and "Lion Rip" are fun little jams, if not breathtaking in their genius. "Lovetones" seems to pick up where "Fades The Sun" left off, building to a satisfying climax at the chorus before ending in gratifying guitar clatter.
"Stubborn Stitches" and "Red Weather" are solid songs standing between me and "Take A Look Around," one of the bonus tracks and the last big winner on Cuts Across The Land. Take some very simple lyrics -- "Take a look around, la la la la" -- lather , rinse, and repeat to a squalling wall of noise and you have a 1:40 powerhouse of a song.
Cuts Across the Land is a modern garage rock classic, delivering a delicious lady-fronted rockgasm you'll return to again and again. Like all great garage rock, it reduces the music to the bare essentials: head-bobbing beats, heartpounding hooks, and loads of nervous energy. Plus, it sounds sexy as hell. And what more could you possibly need? -- Anneke Chy