Review Summary: Songs for the Drunk and the Dead
“I mist inside your house. I linger in your curtains. I wait until you are asleep so that I can speak to you in your dreams. I am as close to you as the veins in your neck when I say to you, in my whispering lisp, "I, too, began as a boy." –Mark Richards “Fishboy”
If the preceding quotation seems esoteric to you then allow me to explain why it is relevant to Murder by Death’s most recent release. Fishboy by Mark Richards is a ghost story told from the point of view of the titular ghost as he makes his way through some sort of fantastic purgatory. As the book unfolds we are told the stories of the myriad other lost souls caught with him on his voyage to his final destination and it is apropos to Murder By Deaths’ “Bitter Drink Bitter Moon”.
Somewhere, in the time between “Who Will Survive and What Will Become of Them” and “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon” Murder By Death found their comfortable space. They have taken their stories of spirits and revenge and brought them to a new level of maturity, not only lyrically but musically as well.
Stripping down their sound post “In Bocca al Lupo”, with “Red of Tooth and Claw” we saw a group pushing their sound and feeling out of the territory they had laid for themselves. The production was crystal clear and the stories of revenge and lust continued on as they had during the concept album of “Who Will Survive and What Will Become of Them”. Very visceral and immediate, they begin to take on an even more narrative and personal feel. The songs began parading themselves out like stories you would tell around a waning campfire or sitting at a table in your local pub with alcohol sweating out of your pores and the desire to believe anything that you were told, so long as it made you feel something.
“Good Morning, Magpie” changed further, streamlining and perhaps strengthening parts of the songwriting but also losing some of the immediacy of the earlier recordings. While songs like “White Noise” and “King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs” were a triumphant continuation of Murder By Death’s evolution the album as whole seemed to lose itself in its muddy production.
With “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon” we find the band moving beyond the limitations they had seeming placed on themselves by re-introducing keys, adding brass, and even a Theremin to fill out the bones of their sound. The production goes from muddied when needed to crisp and clear. Where songs like Killbot 2000 or Summer Break 1899 gave us stories that occurred as we listened, on “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon” we find ourselves in the midst of the ghosts of the way things used to be (My Hill), dead children (Hard World), and the call of a homeland to the children that grew up there (Ghost Fields). There is a sense of continuity and growth seven albums in (eight including Finch) that is rarely matched and deserves kudos.
In the end though what really works in Murder by Deaths’ favor is the sense of mastery in their chosen manner of story telling. There seems to be no waste here. The songs are stripped down and at times jubilant belying the subject matter, which they pulled off well on “Good Morning, Magpie” but executed with precision on “Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon”.
These are the songs of the drunken, the dead, and the damned, packaged in a way that you can take the stories as a whole, or alone, and like ghosts the more you linger on them, the more you pay attention to their stories the longer they stay with you. Haunting you.