The Afghan Whigs

Do To The Beast

Written by: TL on 18/05/2014 23:05:22

Considering how big it reads like The Afghan Whigs were during their Sub Pop tenure in the 90's, I'm consistently puzzled that a band of such widespread (albeit in the alternative scene) reputation doesn't to my knowledge stand behind any classic songs that I or friends of mine would immediately remember upon mentions of the Cincinatti septet's name. But then I guess during most of the 90's I was more occupied with legos and video games, as were most of the staff. So - being the only writer that to my knowledge has any familiarity with the band's reputation and the post-break-up material of their frontman Greg Dulli - I did make note of their relatively surprising reformation and announcement of a new album earlier this year and decided to check it out despite having heard little other Dulli material than 2011's "Dynamite Steps".

Having done some idle diving around in Mr. Dulli's discography, it seems to me like the Whigs' comeback album pretty much stays the course the veteran songwriter has plotted out so far. The style is a dark, elaborate alternative rock, full of grimey lyricism and carefully arranged extra instrumentation and lyrics and like an E Street Band cleaning out skeletons from the closet, "Do To The Beast" deploys soul-style backing vocals and extra pianos and strings in densely atmospheric dad-rock compositions in which Dulli explores our more ugly and vulnerable emotions. Despite the instrumental richness however, the songs consistently maintain a familiar sense of progression, and despite Dulli's usual hazy, off-kilter vocal performance - which slides in and out of falsetto and blue notes with abandon - there are hooks here that will embed themselves memorably in your awareness without need for much concentration. "Royal Cream" and "It Kills" will hence soon have an impact through their themes of jealousy while "Algiers" makes an impact with a peculiar western-like tone. Meanwhile opening duo "Parked Outside" and "Matamoros" displays the boisterous, brooding riffage which gives the album its grinding, entropic nerve and a song like "The Lottery" displays the strangely cathartic swing of relief the band can take with an odd change of key when they see fit.

Overall, regardless of this being Afghan Whigs or The Twilight Sad, it feels to me like another Dulli album which wallows comfortably in its own peculiarly warm depths, and which can be thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding provided that you're inclined to wallow with it. Compared to a Springsteen or to The National for instance though, Dulli and his friends remain less immediate and less engaging. They require a certain sense of investment and bitter readiness from the listener, without which their output can end up sounding a bit like background music, although admittedly a strikingly atmospheric one even at that.


Download: It Kills, Parked Outside, Royal Cream, Algiers,
For The Fans Of: The Twilight Sad, The Gutter Twins, The National, Bruce Springsteen, Elbow

Release date 15.04.2014
Sub Pop Records

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