The Kills

No Wow

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It's hard to believe that the Kills could sound even darker, tighter, and more stripped-down than they did on Keep on Your Mean Side, but somehow they managed it: No Wow is one of the most highly concentrated rock albums in a long, long time. In fact, its tight focus and barely relenting intensity make Keep on Your Mean Side's more traditional ebb and flow feel downright slack. The band's throbbing guitars, to-the-point rhythms, and sexy, dangerous lyrics have been simmered and tempered down to their barest essences, so much so that No Wow often feels like a stark, stylized caricature of rock. Less is usually more for the Kills, though, and they sound more powerful, more confident, and more distinctive here than they did on their debut. "No Wow" itself is a fantastic opener, a powerful statement of intent and of curdled but still compelling love (or lust), the likes of which hasn't been heard since Rid of Me's title track. From there, the album doesn't let up until the sweetly narcotized "I Hate the Way You Love, Pt. 2." Most of No Wow feels like monochromatic variations on the same sounds and themes -- monochromatic, but not monotonous. Wisely, the Kills have chosen to let their drum machine sound like a drum machine, giving songs like "Love Is a Deserter" a skeletal clatter for a backbone, and others, such as "The Good Ones" and "Sweet Cloud," a piston-like thrust. The magnificently taut "Dead Road 7" adds shades of menacing, mysterious country/blues storytelling to the band's songwriting, a direction they should pursue more. At times, No Wow can feel a little too compressed and high-contrast for its own good -- the album downplays the poppier moments that balanced Keep on Your Mean Side's onslaughts. However, since there are so few soft, slow songs here, they're thrown into even sharper relief. "Rodeo Town" is one of the loveliest, and grittiest, ballads that the band has written, and "Ticket Man" ends the album on a hypnotic, reflective note. And though Hotel's vocals are also downplayed (and missed), it has to be said that VV does a compelling job of handling the lioness' share of the singing. A tight, mean set of songs, No Wow feels like a fight going on in a closet -- there's no room for punches to swing, but all of the shoving and grappling makes just as big an impact.

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