There are only so many songs you can write about whiskey, demons, and death… or so you’d think. Murder By Death, the indie rock/country band hailing from Bloomington, Indiana is back with its long-awaited sixth studio album Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. It would have been easy for the band to rehash old material with a slightly new spin, but instead they conceptualized 13 tracks of nearly original work. They still sound like them, but Bitter – with the help of their latest member addition, Scott Brackett – contains a lot more musical variety and Adam Turla’s most complete vocal performance to date (yes, he still sounds like Johnny Cash).
“My Hill” is an exuberant opener, filled with an array of instruments – compliments of the impressive Brackett. Turla’s deep and impactful voice also helps carry this early highlight along nicely. “Lost River,” which features an incredible instrumental opening, has cellist Sarah Balliet proving why she’s one of the most important members of Murder By Death, displaying a knack for a well-timed melody. “Straight at the Sun” is perhaps one of the busiest songs on the album instrumentally, but it’s Matt Armstrong’s groovy bass line that really shines here. “No Oath, No Spell” is without a doubt Turla’s highest point on Bitter. His emotional performance mixed with the soulful cello performance from Balliet make “No Oath” one of the best songs on the entire album.
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is in no shortage of fast-paced rockers (“I Came Around,” “Hard World”) which show Murder By Death’s more chaotic side (Brackett definitely has a future in the band), but it also shows a vast array of other genres, including the tribal first half of “Ditch Lilly” and the spaghetti western-sounding “The Curse of Elkhart.” It’s like watching a Clint Eastwood musical, only much, much better. “Queen Mab” is an incredible instrumental track that really helps move the album along to its conclusion. The slow and jazzy “Oh, to Be an Animal” is another major highlight, at times building to a near-chaotic level of musicianship. “Ghost Fields” instantly feels like a closer, implementing a dreary yet hopeful sound. And of course there’s an accordion, which pretty much instantly makes it awesome.
Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is definitely Murder By Death’s most original album to date, if not necessarily my favorite album from the band. No, In Bocca al Lupo still holds that title, but Bitter is definitely proof that they still have a few tricks left up their sleeve. With sensational performances from each and every band member (especially Brackett and Balliet) and emotionally impactful vocals from Turla (his lyrics, as well, have never been better), Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon is one of the better albums released this year.