Murder by Death
In Bocca al Lupo
ocal bands on Indiana University’s campus thrived on local adulation and energy. The shows I caught were always plagued by a wonderful mismatch between venue—usually spartan, sometimes shitty arenas—and the band itself, which would blanket the place with their gusto and personality. In the tiny spaces of Rhino’s or The Bluebird, great groups like Murder by Death became personal, as though you were privy to some fierce new kid kicking and screaming for attention. Naturally, the inclination is to see this group succeed beyond that minor stadium because their talent surely couldn’t be exhausted by some Big Ten school—though they may have been your favorite, you knew they could be so esteemed by so many others.
Sadly, the only way they can actually outgrow their local crib is through the record, which tends to constrict the very stuff that gave them weight. The album is a detail of resources, of how much went to a performance’s immortality, and this is where most local bands’ energy fails them. Murder by Death’s catalogue is atypical for just how close they’ve come to overcoming that fate, but they’ve usually been done in by overextension. Their last release, Who Will Survive, and What Will Be Left of Them, was admirable but overpowered by thespian hyperbole: A fight in the Wild West. With death. And the devil.
In Bocca Al Lupo is more clear-cut than Who Will Survive, though the same theatrical vibe still tinges the effort. “Some men crave women and some men crave gold / Some men die too young and some die too old / … Boy, decide / Too old to fuck around and too young to die” croons Adam Turla on the opener “Boy Decide.” The more sober storytelling is buoyed by a cleaner and more focused instrumental body, from the short, swashbuckling “Dead Men and Sinners” to the mostly reserved “Raw Eeal.” Their very makeup, which includes cellist Sarah Balliet and pianist Vincent Edwards, in addition to their melodic medley of Latin, pop, and rock rhythms, portends a rather sophisticated ensemble. Some of it is realized on record with songs like “The Big Sleep,” where Balliet and Edwards form the melodic force along with a random but fitting trumpet, and “The Devil Drives,” which drums up the fervor of a Baptist hymnal.
Quite a bit of the album still doesn’t really cohere, though. “Steam Rising’s” electric and acoustic guitars seem to vie for the same background so that Balliet can be in the fore and whenever they let their riffs loose it typically sounds light or just sluggish (“Sometimes the Line Walks You” and “Brother”). Still, these aren’t great detractions from the album, which is certainly their best thus far. They haven’t necessarily captured the essence or spontaneity of their live shows, but taken that energy into the studio. Now having outgrown local fame, Murder by Death aim at a larger audience, and In Bocca Al Lupo only portends ample possibility for the budding group.
Reviewed by: Ayo Jegede
Reviewed on: 2006-06-13