English trio Band Of Skulls have pretty much toured non-stop since the release of their third LP Himalayan in 2014 – but this year decided that they needed to tweak their creative process a little and spend some serious time recording a new album. After spending the longest period they’ve ever spent recording – in a Southampton church of all places, they ended up with over 100 songs to choose from. Now, By Default is the product of picking out the best 12 of those – and undoubtedly represents a new era for the British rockers.
One of the most interesting and inimitable aspects of their recording process, the fact that it was recorded in the unique acoustic of a church – is reflected most evidently in how the percussion sounds on a horde of different tracks.
Lead single Killer was released in advance of the album and the drums immediately strike the ear as more echoey and resonant than your typical studio-recorded percussion. The snare and woodblocks occupy a much more widely encompassing rhythmic space – which gives Killer a more live feel to its timbre.
The effect of the spacious-sounding recording acoustic can be heard on other instruments too, for example in Tropical Disease the striking, singular electronic guitar note that recurs over again sinks back into the track rather than ending abruptly when you’d most expect it to.
Similarly, the opening guitar riff of In Love By Default owes its striking and powerfully resonating sound to this amazing studio space that Band Of Skulls have found themselves in.
Harmonies between vocalists Emma Richardson and Russell Marsden have proved one of Band Of Skulls’ most captivating points of difference as a band over the course of their previous albums, and these harmonies, as well as a range of other vocal techinques work supremely well on this record as well.
Their harmony work on tracks like Back Of Beyond, Killer, Tropical Disease and Little Momma brings a distinctive Band Of Skulls feel to tracks which otherwise use familiar rock riffs and melodies, while Masden explores just how deep his voice can go on This Is My Fix.
While By Default may not be the breakthrough in originality that Band Of Skulls may still yet need to go through at some point in their future, it’s undoubtedly a more diverse overall composition than their previous three albums. They explore more musical techniques, and a more diverse use of instruments, vocals and tempo – all of which is imbued with the most striking and inimitable underlying soundscape that has resulted from their use of such a unique recording space.
It doesn’t seem like a huge step for them, but if Band Of Skulls can replicate the way that these tracks sound on By Default in a live setting, it’ll be a huge step towards what may yet become their defining sound.
‘By Default’ is out Friday May 27, you can pre-order it here.