Album review: Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Doves - Kingdom of RustI think it’s fair to say that I was spoiled musically by growing up in the ’80s, the tail end of a long period where bands usually released albums no more than 1-2 years apart.  So when great newer acts like Manchester’s Doves come along and take longer than that I get impatient.  It’s been more a little more than four years since the group’s excellent third record, Some Cities, and after reading about so many delays with their newest I was starting to lose hope.  But now Kingdom of Rust is here, and all is well.

My overall impression of Rust is that it represents a nice synthesis of the sounds and styles the band explored on their first three albums, but is by no means an artistic retread.  The bulk of the record leans more toward the dense and atmospheric tendencies displayed on Lost Souls and The Last Broadcast, but the direct approach favored on Some Cities rears its head on occasion.

The beauty of Dovesmusic has always been their uncanny ability to make even the simplest tunes sound and feel epic – witness the bouncy opening cut, “Jetstream”, which is really a dance-rock song disguised as neo-prog.  Similarly there’s “Spellbound”, which makes up for its lack of immediate gratification with an aura of darkness and considered songcraft.

The band deviates from their typical approach a few times, however, to marvelous effect.  The first is the title track, a danceable but melancholy alt-country shuffle (I love the chorus of “My God, it takes an ocean of trust/In the kingdom of rust”).  Then there’s one of my early favorites, “Compulsion”, wherein Doves reveals their funky side and call to mind the recent work of bands like TV On the Radio.  It probably goes on a tad too long but is a real treat.

Elsewhere on the album, I was reminded of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd (with the harsher and weirder edges smoothed down) on “Outsiders”, which explodes out of the gate with an urgent rhythm and a liberal dose of analog-sounding synthesizers.  Add in the deliciously fat, distorted bass line and you’ve got another winner on your hands.  Likewise I felt another callback to early Floyd on the vaguely psychedelic stomp-rock of “House of Mirrors”, which revels in heavy reverb and hard-panned effects and guitars. It’s one of the many examples of why listening to this album with a good pair of headphones is a must.

Of the 11 songs on Kingdom of Rust, only the peppy but not particularly memorable “Winter Hill” feels superfluous.  But that’s remedied with the next song, “10:03”, which begins with a pleading, spiritual vibe.  Just as it starts to feel like nothing more than an interlude it gathers steam at the halfway point and builds to a satisfying, beefy crescendo.

The whole affair closes with “Lifelines”, one of the more hopeful-sounding songs on the record.  It serves as a sort of thematic soft landing and was a great choice to finish the album.  So yeah, Kingdom of Rust was well worth the four-year wait , but you won’t hear me complain if they can get the next album out by 2011 or so.

Track listing:
1. “Jetstream”
2. “Kingdom of Rust”
3. “The Outsiders”
4. “Winter Hill”
5. “10:03″
6. “The Greatest Denier”
7. “Birds Flew Backwards”
8. “Spellbound”
9. “Compulsion”
10. “House of Mirrors”
11. “Lifelines”

Watch the video for “Kingdom of Rust”: