One of the great joys of writing about music about is discovering artists, and while Bloomington, Indiana band Murder by Death have been around since the early 2000s, they’re new to me. I enjoyed The Other Shore (Bloodshot Records) so much that, before I sat down to write my review, I listened to their entire catalog, minus their instrumental album, Finch. (In a remarkable coincidence, that instrumental album happens to be the soundtrack to the science-fiction novel by Jeff Vandermeer, of which I have a signed copy, and I’m saving it for when I read the book.)
Two sounds leap out at the listener from Murder by Death’s Americana-tinged indie rock on The Other Shore. Sarah Baillet’s exquisite cello lends an elegance to the music and, somehow, makes it both baroque and rootsy at the same time. Lead singer Adam Turla’s haunting vocals waver between his Johnny Cash and Nick Cave influences, without ever feeling derivative. Fittingly, these two sounds that define MdB’s sonic palette have been with the band all the way from the beginning.
MdB describes what they play as “whiskey devil music.” I can’t argue with their self-description, as the album ends apocalyptically with “Last Night on Earth,” as “day turns to endless night…wild dogs scavenging the schools.” On “Only Time,” we hear the protagonist speak of his body “wracked with pain” as he serves his sentence.
What makes MdB stand out, though, is the glimmer of hope they wring out from the darkness they sow. In “Last Night on Earth,” Turla sings, “I saw you surrounded by by light,” and Baillet’s soaring cello takes the listener to another realm. Take the track “Bloom.” It rolls in on a jaunty intro, with Turla singing “I just had a feeling / I was in a dark room / I was underwater,” which appears to contrast with the music. But then Turla sings “I was waiting to bloom,” and the song turns into a beautiful celebration of birth and growth.
I give this album my strongest recommendation. Murder by Death has made a fine, fine album, a worthy addition to their excellent catalog, that they and Bloodshot Records should be very proud of. Give it a listen, here: https://murderbydeath.com/