The Kills Look to Better Days on 'God Games'

BY Alan RantaPublished Oct 25, 2023

It's been a long and winding road to God Games. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince's pared-down blues-rock was forged in the peppermint wake of the White Stripes, cashing in on the growing taste for bluesy duos rocking that knew how to icky thump.

Keep on Your Mean Side, the pair's 2003 debut as the Kills, capitalized on the moment and sent the duo into the upper ranks of their blues-blasted brethren. Two decades, four albums, a serious hand injury, a divorce from Kate Moss, a turn toward pop polish and a whole mess of life later, God Games is one of Mosshart and Hince's richest and most rewarding albums, a soundtrack for dancing through sorrow.

God Games is the band's first full-length since 2016's Ash & Ice, and it found them linking up with king of polish Paul Epworth — who was also their first sound guy way back in 2002 — and heading to an old church to record, granting the album a resonant and otherworldly gravity. Epworth, Hince and Mosshart have all come a long way since those van-touring days — while the band has always been a rock-first concern, the core of God Games is in its mature, layered and emotive downtempo pop balladry.

Single "LA Hex'' affects a woozy dream pop swirl with its chopped and screwed Angelo Badalamenti beat. At first, Mosshart sounds isolated, like she's on an answering machine, but as more voices texturally twist around her Laurie Anderson speak-singing, her voice is eventually caressed by a whole choir. There's a simmering tension, expressed lyrically in lines like "caught up in all of the drama and all of the fuss," yet the overall vibe is one of quiet triumph.

"My Girls My Girls" viscerally captures that sense of conflicting emotions. The rocktronica instrumental evokes Ratatat, while the pair sings in a duet, "Clinging on for dear life, like I know I should / I picked a bad time to feel this good." Similar to "LA Hex," their solitary vocals build on themselves until it sounds like a full choir in three-part harmony helps them out, triumphantly belting out how they are "the worst." It feels so celebratory, contented with an odd inner-peace, but the lyrics bare scabs from wounds too fresh to have fully healed.

The percussive boom-bap shuffle, soaring guitar sonics and broken telephone vocals of "Love and Tenderness" give it a haunting trip-hop feel rarely heard outside of Portishead, Broadway Project and Del Bel, something echoed to a lesser extent by the mysterious, exotic surf-funk of "Kingdom Come."

"Going to Heaven" is definitely not a hymn. It sounds dangerous and dirty as Hince and Mosshart hum the chorus with a sexy creep over its downward trailing bass line. After Mosshart says "I'm going to raise hell," a trip-hop beat and piano chords kick in that could easily have it confused for a Phantogram track.

Although much of the blues has been scraped from the band's DNA, the title track harkens back to their roots, featuring a beat so depressed that it almost trips over itself, awash in echo and reverb to the point that it nearly eats itself before the final chorus. But there's a divine determination to it as Mosshart asserts that she's "aged by a mad love, but I'm here." 

Another snapshot of life in Los Angeles, "103" blames it on the sun while the percussion echoes in a wash of gated guitar, and it feels truly heaven-sent when Hince finally unleashes his riff. The song is another example of the duo's knack for impeccable drama, its verses as compelling as any big-budget pop chorus — and that's before you get to the real thing.

Even when they strip things down to just a piano and drum machine on "Blank," Mosshart croons about a lost love as commandingly and unforgettably as Frank Sinatra ever did, while the sparse instrumental almost imperceptibly picks up momentum to its crescendo.

The closing duet brings in acoustic guitar, Latin percussion and staccato electric riffs, making "Better Days" feel like a Spaghetti Western spell, as Mosshart and Hince pray for better days ahead. Here's hoping their magic still has enough juju to make it happen, for all our sake. If the strange alchemy of their career holds, better days may very well be ahead. 

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