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March 18, 2005 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-03-18

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Friday
March 18, 2005
arts. michigandaily. com
artspage@michigandaily.com

The RTSan Bodid

5

Moody punk duo's
latest lacks substance

Courtesy of
Sound and Light
"Hey guys,
I think
the dog is
throwing
up in the
corner."
ThiE NEW DEAL'S HANDMADE BREAKBEATS HIT THE BLIND PIG

By Evan McGarvey
Daily Music Editor
MUSIC REVIEW
Roughly halfway through the
Kills' "Love Is a Deserter," the
chant "Get the guns out / Get the
guns out / Your lover is a deserter,"
starts to wear itself out
and show the band's The Kills
occasional immatu- NW
rity. It's a shame, too, Wow
because for most of Rough Trade/RCA
No Wow, the duo's
second proper full-length, guitar-
ist/vocalist VV and drummer Hotel
(who also sings and plays guitar)
work their noir-punk well enough
to finally escape the endless White
Stripes comparisons. Yes, The Kills
are a male/female duo - VV is the
singer. Yes, they work their bizarre,
opaque brand of sexual tension into
their drone-heavy songs. And yes,
it sounds like they both would have
been happier making music in the
1930s alongside weathered blues
musicians.
But it's their preoccupation with
call-and-response that sometimes
turns No Wow into an inescapable
vicious cycle. With no bassist, The
Kills' stark noir becomes totally
dependent on VV and Hotel's double
helix. A follower of Rid of Me-era
P.J. Harvey, VV howls like a preach-
er's wayward daughter as Hotel
plays the role of the faithful/faith-
less straight man.
Their percussion is provided by a
lone drum machine that sounds like
it's been the victim of a few too many
drunken kicks to the CPU. However,
when The Kills' man/machine com-
bination hits the right spots, like
on the frightening, stripped-down
"Dead Road 7," the fear and loathing
on No Wow becomes biblical.
Hotel shows a strong predeliction
for dreary minor keys, slicing away

By Jared Newman
Daily Arts Writer
CONCERT PREVIEW
Pretend that some uninformed clubber
went to hear The New Deal's "progressive

breakbeat house" music
at the Blind Pig tomor-
row night. She'd hear
funky electronic music
and assume that a DJ was
hiding at the back of the
venue. Then she'd move

The New Deal
Saturday at
9:30 p.m.
Tickets $10
18+

same old grooves. A recording of one of their
first shows as The New Deal, This Is Live,
remains their top-selling album to date.
If the idea of a live band playing breakbeat
music sounds gimmicky, remember that these
three heads are better than one: The New
Deal collaborate in real time, collectively
improvising new music as they go. "The three
of us are constantly thinking about where the
show is going," Shearer said. "Very rarely are
you thinking about what you're playing right
at the moment, it has much more to do with
what you're going to play next."
That means that The New Deal will "jam"
tomorrow night, but not in the conventional
sense. For this group, improvisation is more
than just picking a key and adding a dance-
able beat. Shields and Kurtz have created a
system of hand signals in order to establish
modes and keys, while Shearer uses his own
hand gestures to sign different beats and
rhythms. "It's great because it becomes much
less of a jam and more of a conscious effort
to write music live," Shearer said.
Listeners shouldn't get the impression

that everything The New Deal do onstage is
made up on the spot: The band has released
two studio albums to support their live cre-
ations. The title track on 2003's Gone Gone
Gone wraps tight instrumental hooks around
a few minutes of improvisation, showing off
a more melodic approach that some listen-
ers may have missed. Even Shearer felt the
change from behind his drum kit: "We took
about a year off, and when we came back. I
noticed that there's a big difference in our
sound and that everyone's been noticing it,
fans included." They also enlisted vocalists
for a couple of album tracks: Canadian song-
writer Martina Sorbara (Kurtz's spouse) and
chick-rocker Feist ("She's huge in Germany,"
Shearer said).
Despite the tighter structures found on the
album, the band's first love is the stage. "You
can't get energy from the crowd when you're
in the studio, and that's a huge part of our
music," Shearer explained. The Blind Pig
should be just the right venue for The New
Deal's "no sampler, no sequencer" live elec-
tronic sound.

at his guitar admirably. If that's all
The Kills were - a boy/girl band
where the boy likes his guitar blue-
black and the girl likes her songs
howling, they'd have distanced
themselves from their punk-blues
brethren with ease.
But of course, there's a snag.
While VV's voice has all the req-
uisite feminine grit of her idol,
her lyrical sense is mired in "Dear
Diary"-level sludge. The Kills often
abandon the standard chorus/verse
structure for a tangential series of
repeated lines, often the song title,
for entire minutes. Titles soundtlike
they were thought up during a vio-
lently sexual cross-country road trip
- "At the Back of the Shell" and "I
Hate the Way You Love." The dark
labels work well most of the time,
but no image can handle repetitive
vocal beatings that last upwards of
two minutes. A good one-liner gen-
erally works better when it's incor-
poraated into a larger story.
No Wow is by all means a stylisti-
cally unified album that offers plen-
ty in the way of shadowy sound, but
don't expect much breadth to come
along with their sense of density.
Taken in small doses, The Kills hit
like raw coffee grounds - bitter,
rife with energy and filled with
shades of black, black and blacker.
It's the gray areas in their sound and
lyrics that need reinforcement.

closer and see a pair of ( AtThe Blind Pig
drum sticks rhythmical-
ly slicing through the air. Soon she'd realize
that the guy she thought was operating the
laptop is actually playing the keyboards, and
right next to him is a real live bassist.
The New Deal - made up of keyboardist
Jamie Shields, bassist Dan Kurtz and drum-
mer Darren Shearer - began as a Canadian
funk/acid-jazz group in the late '90s, delving
into electronica after they tired of playing the

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