The notion of legacy and the categorizing of iconic status has built and built upon Death From Above 1979’s rip-roaring debut of incendiary punk out-lashes that formed the seminal album, ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’ 10 years ago upon its initial release. Rising from obscurity amongst the churning and ever fertile Canadian music scene, the niche of an act whose defining character was a punk band stripped back to the bare bones of a rhythm section, holding themselves as if they were a fully decorated traditional 4 to 5 piece outfit was mesmerizing in itself. But what added to that concept, and what made the whole idea a success, was that it sounded good. The rawness of Jesse F. Keeler’s bass, smothered in distortion and rasping fuzz, complimented by Sebastien Grainger relentless drumming and wailing vocals created a sound unparalleled at the time, with the originality shooting the duo to a success far further than what was anticipated, with the album going Gold in the bands native country and creating a legion of musicians claiming influence from the record.
10 years have passed since their initial first coming, with the roadway from then to now seeing the band conquer, split in 2006, conquer again in their own respective side projects, and now reform with the rifts that caused their divide bridged, and ready to take on the monolithic challenge of writing a follow up to what is now an iconic statue standing proud amongst the exhaustive rock landscape that sprung up in their wake.
The process of reforming has been an enterprising lesson in maturing for DFA1979, as broadened musical horizons and newly formed family’s of their own has had a profound effect upon the duo. In Sebastien Grainger’s words: “Back then (before the split) we didn’t have any kind of life outside of the band.” “The band was everything; it was literally all we had. Now we both have lives of our own outside of the music we make together. And that’s really important. Everyone needs to have a life.” This coming of age is apparent in the opener to new album ‘The Physical World’, the returning war cry from their inactive state, and reveals that everything has changed for DFA1979 as well as nothing at all.
The brooding ‘Cheap Talk’ starts like any classic Death From Above 1979 song should, a grating and monstrous din of noise exploding into a groove heavy dance beat, flanked by jittering hi-hats and synths. The power from Jesse F. Keeler’s bass is still there, marred in distortion that covers over an instantly catchy riff exploring all the groove and acrobatic phrasing we know from the first half of You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. What separates this album though from the last is the maturity spoken about earlier. Clean and controlled is the angst portrayed in the songwriting now, with the drums benefiting from a tighter production and Sebastien’s vocals now floating above the instrumentation rather than fighting it.
That’s not to say things are boring or insipid. Second track ‘Right On, Frankenstein!’ is a frantic thrash of cacophonous riffage that’s crushing as it is exhilarating, all frustrated and anxious and playing towards a traditional rock formula with pop hooks at every turn. ‘Virgins’ and ‘Always On’ carry on this aesthetic, with the former being a strut laden journey of sonic overtones that sound akin to the ‘desert sound’ as proclaimed by Josh Homme’s various projects, and the latter being an anthemic gallop through classic rock grooves and climatic choruses.
The exploration of this rock slant upon the DFA1979 formula is the calculating factor that demonstrates the marked difference from what happened 10 years ago and today. The cock rock sound over the punk attitude is what’s most apparent on ‘Crystal Ball’, presenting all the attitudes of gruffness associated with the genre amongst a disco veneer, with the same holding true for ‘White Is Red’, an affecting rock ballad and the only example of a Death From Above 1979 song where the lyrics take precedent over the music. ‘Trainwreck 1979’, the lead single of the album, is perhaps the most well balanced example of the new aesthetic the band shoot for, reveling in pop appreciation and a soundscape of fuzz swamped instrumentation that feeds off the obnoxiousness of the cacophony and the alpha swagger of the songwriting.
‘Nothing Left’ and ‘Government Trash’ are the punk rebellions amid the pop/rock leanings the record has had so far, both full of boyish charm, and a reckless abandon that harks back to the energy exuded on classics like ‘Cold War’ and ‘Pull Out’, with the vivacity of this outburst peaking on ‘Gemini’, an incendiary excursion of vivid narrative and thunderous furry that segues turbulently into closing track, ‘The Physical World’, an opus of doom laden noise rock seeing the duo at their most ambitious and intimidatory.
Taking on a mantle of having to top an album like ‘You’re A Women, I’m A Machine’ is something that no band would want to step up to and take on, with the prospect probably leading up to the notation that even DFA1979 feel uncomfortable having to assume that role. However, critiquing ‘The Physical World’ you realize that the band have made an honest hearted attempt at not only pulling the sword out of the stone and proving the heritage they worked so hard to create as still theirs, but also improving upon its formula. Still bathing in the unpredictability of the original sound, but now polished and matured, decorated with beguiling pop hooks and pragmatic approaches to it’s energy sees The Physical World as something that snapshots the bands progression 10 years on from its start, and a succoring reward for those who have waited this long to see the Death From Above 1979’s brand of bludgeoning noise rock/dance punk make an all dominating, triumphant return.
Follow updates from the band here.
Review by Dan E Brown |