Record Label: Eyeball Records
Release Date: June 25, 2002
Allow me to start by simply stating...this is going to be a biased review. I love me some Murder By Death. Here is a unique band who has worked hard and never failed in releasing consistent, interesting and creative albums. Whether it's the cinematic feel or storytelling skill that's put into each record, the switch in Adam Turla's baritone vocals, or the clever way the instrumentation weaves around itself, Murder By Death have always found a way to deliver fresh pieces or art.
Murder By Death's newest offering, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, will be released on September 25th of this year, just past the tenth anniversary of their first album, the subject of this review. It's important to take a look back as bands grow throughout their careers, so first, a little history lesosn behind the record; Murder By Death formed in 2000 under the name Little Joe Gould. They met the head of record label TEAM AV after one of their first shows, and then met lead singer of Thursday, Geoff Rickly. Rickly introduced Little Joe Gould to the owner of Eyeball Records, putting out the Little Joe Gould self-titled EP until the band better represented themselves with the name Murder By Death.
This is how Murder By Death came to putting out their debut album, Like the Exorcist, but More Breakdancing. Chalk-full of film references and inspirations, these 11 tracks are a great way to look back on the band really finding themselves amongst a sea of hardcore bands who's tastes might not exactly be old Westerns. The album begins with "Those Who Stayed", and instrumental introduction perfectly blended by cellist Sarah Balliett. The song starts slow and mean, suddenly changing keys halfway through with a more optomistic sound, and then dropping that for more urgent playing that runs straight into second track, "I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". This song begins with a distorted electronic drum beat under a guitar line that flows smoothly into some eerie piano keys. This is the first time we hear vocalist Adam Turla, who seems not to be placed in the background, but evenly mixed into the sounds surrounding him. His lyrics are strong and thought provoking; "If you can't make up your mind, just how different you should be/Reorganize your priorties to expect more sympathy". "A Caucus Race" keeps the minor chords coming, but brings the album to a point where it begins to relax. It continues this way until taking a sudden turn into fast-paced jangly piano, a strained vocal part, and even some whistling. "You Are the Last Dragon (You Posess the Power of the Glow)" starts slow, but quickens the pace with distorted guitar, excellent drum work, and even some oddly placed synth.
The guitar in "Joe Bou" can sound downright evil, a feeling the listener may find often throughout the record. The middle section of LTEBMD may run together a bit, however not in the way one would assume. It tends to lean more towards the atmospheric side of things, rather than staying unmemorable. With "Flamenco's Fuckin' Easy", the group showcases their storytelling of an intern trying to impress his boss during the golden days, all over some top-notch notes from then keyboardist Vincent Edwards. "Intergalactic Menopause" slows things down once again and harnesses an easier-going sound, mixed into lyrics everyone wishes they could write ("We were drunk and carsick when we rolled into town/Pulling up to the drive-in, there was no one around/When the lights unfolded from the sky, we were the only ones to be found/They were soaring through the sky, we were left on the ground"). Second instrumental song, "Those Who Left", acts as a darker partner track to "Those Who Stayed", over twice it's length at eight minutes and usually being played together live in total darkness. The album technically closes then with "Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption is Such a Good Movie", one last string-laden, laid back and upbeat song ending in silence but then moving into the final "[Hidden Track]". This officially ends the album with a single dark guitar part, over shuffling and what sounds like atmospheric, distorted handsawing.
This is a debut record that has stuck with me for quite some time, as different as it is. Actually, much of it shows the trademarks Murder By Death have featured throughout every album since; gothic, cinematic imagery and a mixture of unique and talented intsrumentation, blended together to make nothing short of an awesome smoothie. This is the soundtrack to a late night walk or drive; an album that escapes classification for me, as far as genre is concerned. As Murder By Death continue to release strong material in their future, let's remember the album that gave us a hint of new talent in the first place.
1. Those Who Stayed
2. I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
3. A Caucus Race
4. You Are the Last Dragon (You Possess the Power of the Glow)
5. Joe Bou
6. Flamenco's Fuckin' Easy
7. Intergalactic Menopause
8. Those Who Left
9. Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption is Such a Good Movie
10. [Hidden Track]