Dichotomy has always played a crucial role within The Kills. The untamed balance between the group’s gritty, lo-fi sonic charms and their polished, dynamic flair has infused their thoroughly modern sound with a restless, seductive quality straight from the start.
No matter what churning, feverish tones their music takes on, it has always paired perfectly with the stylish, combustible cool of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart. That creative contrast is on full display throughout The Kills' fifth studio album, Ash & Ice, a record infused with disparate themes of love and hate, life and death, and secrets and lies.
Lead single "Doing It To Death" emphatically kicks off the record, with Hince’s ominous guitar riff complimenting a foreboding, futuristic beat, which roils beneath Mosshart’s lyrical exploration of how all runs of good luck must one day come to an end. The track details how the endless pursuit of pleasure becomes all-consuming and addictive, leading to an inevitable crash that derails even the most scrupulous plans.
There is a sense of intense isolation that courses through these thirteen fitful songs, with lyrics expressing a desire for true connection tempered by a detached seclusion that routinely wins out. A lot has changed within The Kills in the five years since the release of Blood Pressures, with Hince undergoing a long rehabilitation from a series of hand surgeries, as well as the very public dissolution of his marriage to Kate Moss. In an effort to find inspiration, Hince took a two-week solo trip on the Trans-Siberian Express, a solitary journey of inward discovery that informs a good portion of the record (especially on the simmering provocation of ‘Siberian Nights’ and the ghostly plaintiveness of ‘Echo Home’).
Rather than continuing to record at their traditional locale, the remote Key Club Studio in Michigan, this album instead came together in the two biggest cities on the American coasts, with Jamie’s rented house in L.A. and New York’s famous Electric Lady Studios injecting a streetwise swagger and late-night restlessness to these elegant new songs.
Hince co-produced the record alongside John O’Mahony, with industry veterans Tom Elmhirst and Tchad Blake doing the mixing. The new material sounds decidedly more polished and clean than the gnarled, coarse garage rock of the band’s early days, but the personal sentiments of this record ultimately shines through amidst the weathered riffs and infectious rhythms that Hince and Mosshart conjured up.
Mosshart now calls Nashville, Tennessee, home, and the candid lyrical honesty of Music City has certainly permeated her approach to songwriting as well. These new songs examine affairs of both the head and the heart with a blunt sincerity that gives the material a resolute, poignant core.
“I get lost / But I always come around / It’s a strange fear / Allows me to be found / I’m loyal, oh, I’m loyal / I’ve got the heart of a dog,” Mosshart wails on the album’s thunderous second single, "Heart of a Dog". It’s one of many tracks on the record that illuminates the perilous authority that love holds over you, leaving your better judgment in tatters as you fall under the allure of someone who has repeatedly proven to be bad for you.
But instead of remaining trapped within the bitter confines of a complicated, destructive relationship, the characters within these songs are continuously in search of a better way forward, no matter the emotional toll that it takes on them. “It’s over now / That love you’re in is all fucked up / That love is done,” sings Mosshart decisively, over the somber, stripped-down piano strains of "This Love", a brief but devestating number that anchors the sentimental core of the album’s second half.
The duo’s unguarded vulnerability is willfully offered up alongside their creative potency throughout the record, giving the material an uneasy friction that isn’t quite rectified by easy answers or therapeutic platitudes. Ash & Ice ultimately represents the contemporary tension of two talented artists finding their way back from the brink by leaning on each other as well as their music.