Over the past 12 years, Bloomington Indiana 5-piece Murder By Death have been steadily harvesting an increasingly loyal and expanding audience for their own brand of whisky drenched murder ballads. And this year those fans have showed their love in abundance through making their Kickstarter project for the deluxe vinyl release of their sixth-album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon the third highest in the history of the site with over $187,000 being donated. A cause for celebration, and the band do it in the only way they know how, by crafting brooding slices of darkness from the Nick Cave school of unsettling storytelling.
Following on from 2010's Good Morning Magpie, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon was pieced together in front-man Adam Turla’s Basement/Practice space throughout 2011, and is the first to feature multi-instrumentalist Scott Brackett as a permanent member of the band. This homegrown collective genesis is something that comes across in the overall tone of the album that moves effortlessly between shuffling Americana, raucous folk, and bass-driven rock workouts. But it's in close confines that album begins with the eerily whispered guitar & mandolin piece 'My Hill', before segueing into the percussive shuffle of 'Lost River', where Turla contemplates a good place to hide a body in a desolate Johnny Cash-esque baritone, before the band creeps in to fire the song into life with soaring cello and euphoric backing vocals.
Storytelling and conceptualism have always been a cornerstone of Murder By Death's sound, and this can be seen to work to great effect on the album's lead single 'I Came Around', a dark but uplifting tale about attending a wake of someone and having perceptions changed in a haze of grief and booze. Layered with accordion and cello, the instrumentalism of the track reflects the sentiments perfectly with its lurching and staggered, but high energy Irish folk in the mould of Bruce Springsteen's more recent celtic-tinged output.
But one of the album's strengths is the heavy and locked in rhythm section that drives the more subtle textures on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. Matt Armstrong's bass sound has a dense and guttural quality that, teamed with Dagan Thorgerson's at times metronomic drums, propels tracks such as 'Straight at the Sun' along at a frenetic pace and offers solid counterpoint to the more atmospheric sentiments on the record. Although that being said, some of the high points of the album come when the band move away into more ethereal spaces, such as on the organ led-waltz of 'Oh to be Animal', with its haunting string outro, or the warped bluegrass twang of 'Ditch Lilly'.
Indeed such is the creative breadth on Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon that it's a piece of work that can transition seamlessly between anthem & intrigue and will hopefully continue to cement Murder By Death's consistently growing list of admirers for some time to come.