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The Kills 

Keep On Your Mean Side

Wednesday, Apr 16 2003
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The Kills are the latest entry in what might be termed "the new garage rock," differentiated from the old by the lack of 1960s orientation or accouterments; it includes bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Strokes, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This two-person ensemble strives for a stripped-down, extremely back-to-basics sound, as performed by thin white people who don't comb their hair much and are (perhaps too) careful in avoiding solar radiation. The Kills' ancestors include seminal New York City icons Suicide, Richard Hell, and Sonic Youth, along with such simpatico Brit combos as Delta 5, Wire, and the more recent Elastica. Like their forebears, the Kills make a little go a long way, with riff-driven tunes conveyed by unfussy, jagged guitar riffs; minimal use of bracing distortion; primitive, metronomic drumming; and vinegary, brusque female vocals (betraying the influences of Patti Smith and P.J. Harvey).

On Keep On Your Mean Side, the Kills' first full-length platter, the band is possessed by the (virtually) prerequisite Velvet Underground, evidenced in the cyclical, drone-driven "Some Kinda Love"-like "Kissy Kissy." But unlike the Kills' role models, VV (Alison Mosshart) and Hotel (Jamie Hince) add a frequent and sincerely soulful bluesy tinge to their otherwise deadpan vocals. This blues effect can be gleaned in the music, too, as with the ominous boogie motif driving many of the songs, best evidenced in the insidiously insistent rouser "Fuck the People." Lyrically, the group's subject matter surveys the state of sensual desires with a defiant snarl: Note the "You got it/ I want it" carnal chorus of "Cat's Claw" and the "You wanna fuck and fight" refrain of "Black Rooster." The main downside to this album is its lack of variety -- taken in one sitting, the songs get a little same-y -- but when consumed in small servings, Keep On Your Mean Side satisfies those yearnings for astringent, basement-born noise.

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Mark Keresman

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