“I almost think of it as a series of novels” Murder by death frontman Adam Turla shared his band’s album release in a press release ahead of the release of their latest LP, Spell/Bound. While storytelling is typically a touchstone of the folk and Americana traditions from which the Louisville band draws inspiration, few songwriters in these genres have expanded the scope of their vision as MBD has, from titles to comic songs on the equally comic name Like The Exorcist, but more breakdance released two decades ago at the start of their career to the cinematic heights of epics such as the 2008 album opener “Comin’ Home,” which focused on the not quite baritone Turla’s Johnny-Cash on explosive instrumentals.
This new album, of course, has been fueled by the literary potential of pandemic downtime and the front-row view we’ve all had since 2020 of the global and national catastrophe unfolding daily on each of the various screens cluttering our setups. quarantine. According to Turla, the disc “shot out of [him] like a flash of energy” after a year without touching a guitar, the instrumental and lyrical parts of the project morphing into a collection of songs that sometimes feel experimental in the band’s catalog with surprising influences like Mazzy Star, Serge Gainsbourg , Massive Attack, and The Cure can be found in the compositions.
“I’ve never enjoyed writing or recording an album so much,” Turla shares of the new album. “I think it was down to the focus I had to put into accounting and non-creative work to make sure our businesses and people could weather the pandemic – I was just relieved and excited to do Summoning those songs from the ether and cultivating the chord changes, refining the lyrics, making those hundreds of little changes, was so much more rewarding than looking at spreadsheets, packing mail orders, or worrying about bank accounts.It’s an album of our times, of the fragile country in which we live and of the emotions that accompany the weight of the world.
With the album released today, Turla took the time to break down how each song came together for us. Listen and play each track below.
1. “Get Up”
I started writing this song around 2016, I reworked it over and over to try to get it across The other shore (2018), but it never materialized in real life as I imagined in my head. Then when I started working on it again in 2021, it all made sense. One of the song’s concepts is our disconnected experience in a world of constant stimulation and the loneliness that comes with it. It also encompasses one of the main elements of my lyrics, which I call “the relentless march of evil” – the endless spiral of greed that drives much of human existence. I hint at it with one of my favorite lines from the album: “It’s a bitter truth that sinks in / When you fight the demons, they’ll do anything to win / The scales are poisoned.”
2. “Never Be”
“Never Be” is, in a way, about watching children recruited as extremists, and is sung like a mantra warding off the temptation to succumb to this failed ideology – “I will never be”. It addresses the idea that it takes being aggressive or ruthless to succeed, and how we are tied to these illusions and use them to inflate ourselves, ultimately destroying ourselves and others. It shares sonic similarities – particularly in the string section – with “Get Up”. We have arranged the string parts of Sarah and Emma so that they recall the arrangements of Serge Gainsbourg.
3. “All must rest”
It’s an upbeat song about the inevitability of death and the shared emotions that come with loss. Sarah wrote the cello part, and I sat down with a phone recording a few months later and that song came out in about 30 minutes. It features some of the most metaphorical and obscure lyrics on the album, and is set to a song that nods to The The and The Cure. I was very excited to play my six-string bass as the main line that appears after the first chorus and during the outro. It’s a boo.
It was another song that came out quickly in a wave of inspiration. Our keyboard player David fixed up an old Wurlitzer and lent it to me to write on, and I sat down and wrote this in an afternoon in a burst session. I had the idea that a woman who is a wallflower at a party would be ignored so much that she ended up disappearing. The music is an ode to Portishead and Massive Attack, with perhaps some Elliott Smith for good measure.
One of the weirdest songs on the album, and the hardest to communicate to the band, but it came together well, in my opinion. I had to tell the band “trust me” on how we arranged it. The first trick was for everyone to learn how to play each thematic melody. Then we arranged the first half of the song, which is kind of a dark, singsong vibe with basically an instrumental chorus. Then, halfway through the song, the band members start switching melodies, swapping who’s playing which parts, and the arrangement climbs to a climactic explosion where, in the live version, I switch from acoustic guitar to electric and let it rip. It’s kind of a challenge for the forces of change that are shaping our world to do their best.
This song is a spell of revenge, righteousness and anger – it literally tries to cast out evil. Each lyric tries to trap power in a force that becomes a promise of retribution. It’s about as aggressive as ever.
“When” is about that feeling in a horror movie where the lifeboat is in plain sight, but there’s a sea of zombies between you and it. It’s about that awful moment when you realize you tricked yourself into a lie because it was the easiest thing to do, but now it’s too late. This song is pretty wild, using harmonic minors, raised chords and surprising chord changes. The timing is also constantly changing, as we maintain chords of different lengths for the effects. Probably the most difficult song to complete the album arrangements.
8. “I will go”
It’s perhaps the least weird and most beautiful song on the album – it’s an acceptance of death and self-loss. It’s about dying alone and being okay with it. Winks to The Band, Mazzy Star, more traditional music.
9. “Strange Song”
This song is basically a plea for normality and is about the idea of communication – when something has failed for so long, use a different language. There’s Samantha Crain (just like “Everything Must Rest”) on backing vocals, and I think it went really well. There’s kind of a 90s vibe to the last half of the song, and I think I was basically trying to write a Björk song à la hyperballad or something, in the style of Murder by Death. An epic end to a resounding record.