The Mess Hall – ‘For the Birds’

November 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Published: Music Australia Guide #71, November 2009.

The Mess Hall
For the Birds
****
(Ivy League/Universal)

Comparison is all too easy in the music game, and all too permanent. A flippant aside regarding a band’s likeness to another can become a defining mantra. Sydney outfit The Mess Hall know the routine. The duo – vocalist and guitarist Jed Kurzel and drummer Cec Condon – have been straight-batting supposed correlations to The White Stripes and Black Keys since Notes from a Ceiling hit the shelves in 2005. The gritty blues of 2007’s Devil’s Elbow only made things worse. If nothing else, new oeuvre For the Birds will espouse a new reading of the duo’s sound. From the shaking, thumping glam-boogie of opener My Villain, Kurzel and Condon manage to straddle both economy and atmosphere. For every riff, every strut and bluster, there’s a peal of harmony, a clicking rhythmic intonation, a wraithlike piano line or room sound. The parched desert swagger of Tijuana 500 is a summer classic in the making, while the bustling organ groove of Bell and storming exotica of New Ornithology add a dark, spooked-out twist to proceedings. But the real surprises are when The Mess Hall turn it down a notch. The narcotic dirge of Marlene, reverb-laden guitar lashes of Long Time Death and acoustic lament of Swing Low add a real sense of light and shade to this album’s palette. Raw soul, blues and rock it may be, but this album is as much about tone, timbre and atmosphere as it is rollicking noise. Forget misguided comparisons, For the Birds is testament to The Mess Hall’s singularity. DAN RULE

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