About two years ago, I wrote one of my first album reviews ever for Murder by Death’s Like the Exorcist, But More Breakdancing. It was an old favorite, a debut I felt was glossed over all too often and this was my motivation for writing about it. I started the review with the line, “I have to be honest – this review is going to be biased.” It’s a rough one, I know.
What I didn’t understand then was that every review is biased – that is, literally, the point of review. Bias is going to follow a writer in nearly anything he or she writes; in the world of music, it comes from when you first discovered a band, what their music got you through, and how you and the band subsequently change. Luckily for us, Murder by Death seems to have gone through all the right changes. As the saying goes, they’ve aged like a fine wine, with each release maturing and managing to incorporate new elements while mastering the band’s unique core sound – a sound once defined by whiskey and zombies, and now just defined by the former.
On Big Dark Love, the biggest improvement we hear is the band’s addition of multi-instrumentalist David Fountain, who provides just the right amount of keys and horns to push the boundaries of what each song could be. Take for instance opener “I Shot an Arrow,” a rowdy introduction that bounces along to the song’s electronica-tinged percussion with more pop sheen than we’ve ever heard from the band. But it still sounds like Murder by Death, and more importantly, it sounds good. This carries into “Strange Eyes,” a single stripped down and laid back in comparison, proving that a cohesive mood almost refuses to be set for the album.
At 10 tracks, each song stands out and seems to tell a separate story, or at least separate parts of the same story. Each song is given space to breath, making the album Murder by Death’s most consistent since Red of Tooth and Claw. The songs have a tendency to start quietly and end on explosive notes, like the somber and experimental title track, which finds vocalist Adam Turla nearly screaming, “Let me in/Me and my big, dark love/Let me in/Me and my love.” The lyrics are certainly broader than they once were, but somehow, no less poignant.
As usual, the cello playing of Sarah Balliet provides a backbone and a tone for most of these songs, but the band also makes use of some more atmospheric sounds this time around, something we haven’t heard since the band’s Like the Exorcist days. Songs like the menacing “Dream in Red” and “Send Me Home” feel almost thematic in nature, while the late-night punch of “Solitary One” really showcases Fountain’s unique abilities. In fact, the only song here that hints at any sort of regression is “Natural Pearl,” a slice of Americana-folk that could have fit perfectly on Good Morning, Magpie.
It took me a long time to write this review – much longer than I’d like to admit based on its simplicity. But when it comes down to it, Big Dark Love is notable for several reasons – its diversity, experimentation, production and short length – that already make it a stand-out release this year from one of the most consistently underappreciated bands making “rock music” today. So, as both a writer and a Murder by Death fan, I recommend missing out no longer and jumping on board with Big Dark Love.