Give Up The Roast is a column that collides delicious caffeine with auditory revelry a la a bi-monthly coffee and album pairing—the perfect combination for perking you up during that midday slump. Here, columnist Shannon Shreibak investigates all of the notes, from fruit rinds and spices to perfect fifths smothered in grinding distortion. So come on all you coffee shop novelists, DIY freaks, and connoisseurs of fine taste—keep your mind here in the GUTR and catch a buzz with us.
If you had the misfortune of spending your teenage years as a painfully shy, gangly limbed emotional wreck like myself, your only gateway to badassery was probably through the bands that you listened to. Thanks to some cosmic force or hormonal delusion, the throb of a power chord or the thrum of a voice could instill more confidence than any pep talk or ace essay or half-second of eye contact with a crush.
It was The Kills’ third album, Midnight Boom, that made me realize that it only took a song to make me realize that I could grasp the mystifying coolness that my peers seemed to hold above me like a carrot in front of my nose. The mythology of VV (lead singer and sometimes-guitarist Alison Mosshart) and Hotel (guitar virtuoso and now-producer Jamie Hince) with their bottle-black hair and nicotine tallowed skin, the boombox crunch crackling beneath each song, the scandalous sleaze of Jamie Hince’s guitar riffs—it all made me realize that “cool” was a state of mind, and this album was my vade mecum.
BEHIND THE CURTAIN (BACKGROUND)
After a meet-cute in 2000 England and months of trans-continental songwriting, the sexually charged and artistically prolific friendship between Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart culminated in the formation of The Kills. Fast-forward to here-and-now: the duo is basking in the spotlight after ending a five-year dormancy with Ash & Ice, a synth-slicked foray into glam rock that bids adieu to the duo’s murky blues roots. While the 13-song LP is a testament to creative and personal growth, chalk outlines of the duo’s Midnight Boom days still scatter the crime scene left in their wake.
With two albums of bluesy racket behind them, Midnight Boom marked a staticky sea change for The Kills. Armed with a drum machine and nestled in the isolation of a Benton Harbor, Michigan, recording studio, the duo cut and pasted the traditional rock formula into an claustrophobic tantrum gorged with synth romps and unapologetic flair.
BRASS TACKS (THE COFFEE)
The ineffable magnetism of The Kills can be boiled down to their relentless aloofness. Clad in thrifted layers of fur, chains, and leather, Mosshart and Hince embody the a medley of Studio 54 glam and piss-poor art punks. While hair colors and onstage uniforms have changed throughout their 13-year union, it’s the pair’s unrelenting aura of cool that has remained the same.
So it makes indisputable sense that a drink to content with the Anglo-American duo hails from Nashville’s hot rod revving coffee haven Barista Parlor. (My logic is also leveraged by the fact that Mosshart calls Music City her part-time home and has her own affinity for American motorbilia.) Barista Parlor’s Night Rider is an iced espresso bevvy that’s served atop a heap of ice in a rocks glass, bolstering the drink’s brio. The drink itself is radiant and citrusy, with a blackberry meatiness anchoring the chocolatey espresso and balancing the glowing lemon twist garnish.
WHITE NOISE (THE MUSIC) dirge aloof garage-rock boombox rock 00s
Midnight Boom offers a glimpse into the claustrophobic dirge that must be life as The Kills. Named after the hours of the duo’s creative peak (midnight to 6 a.m.), the LP is a blaze of white heat and mutually assured destruction.
Opening with jugular jumping anthem “U.R.A. Fever”, The Kills shirk the homespun garage-rock of their past in favor of glitzy pop affectations. Gliding through silver-tongued call-and-response and Hince’s drop-tuned skuz, The Kills build a new sonic world only to destroy it handclap proclamations and disjointed noise. Riding the wave of playground melodies, “Cheap and Cheerful” swerves along a handclap jiggy as Mosshart’s voice soars at its most saccharine. Shooting a wink and a nod to plug-and-play pop nuggets, Mosshart delivers wry commentary with lyrics like, “I want you to be crazy/’Cause you’re boring baby when you’re straight/I want you to be crazy/’Cause you’re stupid baby when you’re sane.” Echoes of the song’s ra-ra rock can still be heard from the likes of Sleigh Bells and Cults.
“Tape Song” delivers sweet relief to fans who feared the band had sold its edge for commercial success, despite a solid half of the song’s composition relying upon Mosshart’s ability to make breathing sound sexy. (How many fans practiced rock ‘n roll-inspired meditation after first hearing this song?) The track walks a tightrope between boot scuffing blues and mainlined rock, alternating between clangor and calm. The album’s sexy slither lingers thanks to Hince’s offhanded vocals on “Getting Down” and the fierce ‘n frisky duet on “Last Day of Magic.”
Diving into previously uncharted waters of balladry, The Kills find comfort in sparseness with “Black Balloon,” a wonderfully thin-skinned ditty that’s become a live staple. The self-possession quickly evaporates, though, beneath the airless doo-wop of “Sour Cherry” and crackpot cynicism slinking through “What New York Used To Be.”
Some have relegated Midnight Boom as a puff piece, a top-heavy half-hour of Euro-trash bedroom rock—and some of those modifiers may actually apply to the album’s 12 hedonistic tracks. What’s so triumphant about Midnight Boom, though, is its ability to bridge seemingly discordant worlds: on stage and back alleys, black boots and white collars, dream and delusion.
Midnight Boom is where fantasy and reality clash. Midnight Boom is where we all live when the music takes over.
Column by Shannon Shreibak. Go forth and be loud with her on Twitter @ShannonShreibak.