Having briefly returned to the comforting grey skies of Manchester on the recent trip back to England, I was prompted to catch up fully with the new Doves opus, Kingdom of Rust. The preview simply wasn't enough to do justice to what a great listen this album is, hence the extra effort to expound herein.
Across their four albums, Doves consistently evoke imagery of the grimly beautiful industrial North West. With their newest title, they simply push the link further into the grey. Ushering things in with a suitably confident air, lead single Jetstream is to this album what Black & White Town or There Goes The Fear were to the Some Cities and The Last Broadcast albums, respectively. A fresh, memorable song, it announces the band's return after four years with subtle gusto. The title track follows, riding in on tight percussion and a bass line that wouldn't be out of place in a Western. It restrains itself more than the opener for the most part, until it can wait no longer and needs to burst forth for a brief period further in.
Elsewhere, The Greatest Denier shimmers with what seems like minimal effort, though the carefully layered tones and varied instruments utilised are far beyond the abilities of most groups. In truth, part of what appeals so with this band is the ability to wrench emotion and meaning from the most unassuming, restrained numbers in their canon. Birds Flew Backwards is another example of this, albeit a fairly similar experience. As if concious of the need to change the flow of the album briefly, Compulsion hits a particularly funky bass note and is immediately recognisable. Regardless of the tonal change, though, that same floating mix of melancholy-tinged optimism holds on in the vocals and often creeps into the music itself.
The highlight of the album, Winter Hill, crops up early on but is no less affecting for it. A nostalgic, perhaps vaguely mournful, glance back at shared moments, the song offers a place for the familiar and lost to gather together. In many ways it exemplifies why the band is held in such high regard by critics and peers alike. In one song, Doves succeed in evoking hope and positivity whilst weaving in a feeling of unease or uncertainty. In anchoring these emotions to a specific location or scenario from their upbringing, they successfully connect geography and lyrical meaning in a way that British songwriters so rarely seem to achieve. Although a regular hook for US songsmiths, the skill often deserts those in the UK and makes it all the more pleasurable when artists such as Doves - and indeed their city brethren, Elbow - pull it off.
A slightly more varied, yet no less accomplished, album than their previous efforts, Kingdom of Rust quickly establishes itself as the most complete and well rounded Doves album to date. Satisfactorily summarising all that is enjoyable about their style and adding a little more to boot, this new effort is about as good a place as any for those unfamiliar with the band to begin their sonic exploration of the simultaneously rusty and gleaming NW England.
"Well, she travels far and we stay apart,
But she crossed her heart on Winter Hill"
Now playing: Murder By Death - I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe