Album Review: Doves – Kingdom of Rust

For the last few years, Doves seemed grounded. Having released a trio of albums in the first half of the decade, they soon found themselves bobbing in a sea of their own expectations. Many thought the band to be on some kind of aimless hiatus, but one listen to their new record quashes that notion. This trio has been hard at work creating a record in which listeners can wholly immerse themselves.

Kingdom of RustKingdom of Rust – which finally releases this week – took over two years to complete and captures a wider variety of the band’s moods than ever before. While most groups have a focus on success that wouldn’t allow for a four-year break between releases, Doves wanted to make sure they got exactly what they wanted out of their “comeback” album. The lack of pressure and timetables certainly served them well, because Kingdom of Rust is one of the most sublimely pleasing records of 2009 so far.

The years of space between 2005’s Some Cities and Kingdom of Rust serve to magnify just how different this new album is from the rest of their catalog. The first track, “Jetstream,” sounds like nothing the band has ever done before. The highly synthesized track is a strange way to welcome the band back, and it’s awkward in the same way that seeing an old girlfriend is awkward – you’re turned on, but don’t quite know what to say about the encounter.

Comfort comes quickly, however. The album soon opens up into a vast expanse of styles, none of them too explicitly reminiscent of the Doves of old. “Jetstream”‘s robotic drums are subsequently offset by the symphonic old-west swing of the title track, which marries soundtrack-ready splashes of sound with train hopping drums and voracious, biting guitars.

“Kingdom of Rust” highlights some of the band’s touchstones – Jimi Goodwin’s golden-smooth vocals and the band’s stratospheric rock anthems are back in full force on that track and “The Outsider,” which expands on the band’s forceful, atmospheric sound. More than ever, they present a wealth of ideas with each passing song.

While it’s no stretch to compare them to other grandiose pop bands like Coldplay, The Verve, Oasis and Radiohead, Doves manage to strike an even finer balance between pop construction and visceral sonic bloodletting. The considerable time spent making Kingdom of Rust manifests itself in dynamic mood shifts, and the band’s chosen feelings are felt with each track.

There are healthy doses of Beatle-esque musical spirituality in “Winter Hill” and the aurally enveloping “10:03.” Cascading melodies give way to indulgent choruses on “The Greatest Denier” and poignant drama envelops the majestic movements of “Birds Flew Backwards.” By the time the strummy grandeur of “Spellbound” comes around, this album has arrested your ears.

The record has a nontraditional cohesive flow, where the drastically different sounds in each song are threaded together by Goodwin’s voice and the band’s attention to detail. The production is flawless, and each minute is maximized – there’s hardly a predictable moment to be found, as clever uses of space make each song brim with aural pleasantries.

“Jetstream” and “Compulsion” – both sung by guitarist Jez Williams – are two major steps away from the band’s typical cloud-surfing rock sound. These tracks boast a feel that is vaguely new wave and nearly inexplicable. Both rely heavily on digital effects, as does the unsettling “House of Mirrors,” which nicely blends the band’s favorite tricks into a dizzying collage of Sixties rock, pounding riffs, piano power pop, and triumphant instrumental work.

With impassioned vocals, surprising bursts of sound, and a familiar framework of songs, Kingdom of Rust is a wonderful way for Doves to ceremoniously return to the fray. As much pressure as artists are under to keep their creative and financial trains rolling, it’s a testament to their artistry that Doves stepped back, took their time, and created something worth listening to instead of simply making another record.

Rating: 8.0 out of 10
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