Kiwi comedy duo Flight of the Conchords might not be an accurate representation of musical life in their homeland, but I think it’s fair to say that New Zealand has never been known as a hotbed of rock ‘n’ roll. Nomadic trio Die! Die! Die! might not necessarily be about to change all that, but it won’t be for want of trying. I mean, just look at that band name.
Not that the vitriol is superficial. 2005’s self-titled debut was a swift, angry gun-shot of an album, clocking in at just over twenty minutes but garnering critical acclaim not just back home but in alternative music circles across the globe. This sophomore effort might be a more developed affair—not to mention twice as long—but the bee is still firmly lodged within Die! Die! Die!‘s bonnet. Its thirteen tracks are rough, raw and irrepressibly energetic, embodying the punk ethic that bands the world over strive for but that is only really achieved by those who don’t give a damn about it. The threesome bring to mind vestiges of Black Flag, Wire, and Les Savy Fav, but Promises, Promises thrives on its own individual sense of confidence and youth, and the primitive sense of escapism that only loud, crashing rock music can bring.
Opener “Blinding” is perfect. Its repeated lament of “I could never forget her if I tried” drops you right into the heart of the problem, and so too the music. A two-second drum roll and it begins, tight-as-fuck, fast-as-hell, punk-as-anything—it’s raw, it’s messy, it’s sheer catharsis. We never find out who this unforgettable girl is, but nor does it seem important—you’re already hooked. The next cut, “Britomart Sunset”, is just as fast, just as vitriolic, but, as if to prove that Die! Die! Die! aren’t some power chord-happy punk band, throws into the mix all manner of fantastic noises, coaxed out of Andrew Wilson’s guitar. Within the first five minutes—should that be first five seconds?—Promises, Promises has taken you aback within its sheer confident vibrancy. Clearly first impressions are something Die! Die! Die! do very well indeed.
But so much for catharsis; Promises, Promises is actually a surprisingly maturely crafted album. Well, not so much album—opener aside, you get the sense that these songs would sound good in any order—but collection of maturely crafted songs. They’re mostly angry, yes, and often fast, but crucially, they don’t rely on this for their foundations like those of so many second-rate punk bands. So while “A.T.T.I.T.U.D.” has bucketfuls of the quality it (nearly) spells out, it’s expressed via ridiculously tight bass and drums and a surprisingly sweet chorus. Similarly, the title track’s tooth-gnashing demands (“I just want what I was promised”) are accompanied by screeching digitised guitars and time changes that belie the band’s punk origins.
And so it should come as no surprise that when Die! Die! Die! do decide to slow things down (which isn’t often), they prove to be equally competent. “Sideways Here We Come” is all about intertwining, be it guitar and bass or harmonised vocals, its chorus as memorable for Michael Prain’s rolling drumbeat as much as it is Wilson’s hammer-ons and antagonised yells. “Whitehorses”, meanwhile, employs a pendulous riff to great effect, with the unprecedented yearning of its chorus (“What would you do / If she said she’d fell out of love with you?”) one of the album’s most affecting moments.
Promises, Promises, then, is a triumph in many areas. While it’s not perfect—“Death to the Last Romantic”, for one, is more of an unexpanded idea than a song—it is raw, exciting and cathartic; so much so that it is able to match the notoriously incendiary live performances of its architects for sheer energy, whilst expanding upon these foundations in songwriting terms. And it’s this combination of punk spirit, matured musicianship, clever and diverse songwriting, and their effortless knack for fast, catchy songs that means Die! Die! Die! will appeal to a varied audience, and should ensure Promises, Promises expands upon their already sizeable fanbase. You’ll want to be amongst it.
// Notes from the Road
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