Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them?
By: Eric Greenwood
Not only has the name changed, but the music has, too, for this Bloomington, Indiana quintet. The former Little Joe Gould sounds like a new band on its darkly thematic and stunning sophomore album. Where introspection, elegiac melodies, and meandering textures saturated its debut, now old-fashioned storytelling, compact songwriting, and thunderous crescendos dominate the band's apocalyptic sound.
Never having much liked the Little Joe Gould moniker, the band opted for something a bit more severe in choosing Murder By Death. How intimidating can you be with a name that sounds like a short Jewish man, anyway? And since this album runs a long narrative about how the Devil exacts revenge on a small Mexican town, a name like Murder By Death, though somewhat cheeky in its reference, should help sustain the suspension of disbelief.
The band's sound is breathtakingly huge. Urgent, pounding drums accent haunting, Cure-ish bass lines for a dynamic backdrop to vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla's gloomy Nick-Cave-by-way-of-Tom-Waits campfire tales. Turla's smooth, choirboy voice is rougher around the edges than before. Classical piano twinkles distantly beneath the mix while brooding, languid cello lines weave throughout it all. Your average indie rock fare, this is not. In fact, the band's only distant relative might be The Black Heart Procession.
Mixing esoteric religious imagery with old western themes, Turla unfurls a story so grim that it will very likely scare the vintage sweaters off the emo crowds it typically plays in front of, thanks to relentless touring this year with Thursday and My Chemical Romance. And, while unsuspecting crowds will likely assume the band to be some sort of death metal joke, the crackling urgency of its intricate and tightly wound cacophonies will stymie such postulations and easily convert new followers.
Lyrically, Murder By Death abandons its complicated, lovelorn angst in favor of songs about whiskey and guns and, of course, the Devil himself. This impersonal approach plays up the gloomy schtick of its reincarnation flawlessly, but, at the same time, it loses some of the charm that was inherent to the more reflective tracks off Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing.
The silly song titles that peppered its debut seem to have tapered off as well, which is understandable considering the band is trying to maintain a consistently downbeat mood, although a few slip by like "Killbot 2000", "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue", and "A Masters In Reverse Psychology." The aforementioned "Killbot 2000" steals the spotlight early on with its spitfire verses and anguished choruses ("carry their little bodies/to the cemetery/so gently"), while the latter "A Masters In Reverse Psychology" is more resigned to the impending doom.
Who Will Survive And What Will Be Left Of Them? is less outwardly showy than the band's debut in that it never really flaunts individual members' extraordinary musical talents, but after a few listens it's obvious that Murder By Death has learnt how to pack its punches more discreetly. Its music is as powerful and intimidating as it is gentle and serene, always sounding as though some sort of hell-fire orchestra is playing beneath it. The songs seep into your skin and haunt you long after the record ends.