[20 December 2005]
In a year that celebrated Antony & the Johnsons and Xiu Xiu, it is surprising that the Dead Science have barely been mentioned. Like both of those artists, the Dead Science shares a fragility of voice that manages to sound like an explosion is always just about to happen. And also like them, the music finds strength in oddness. Antony & the Johnsons brings to mind cabaret and ‘70s AM lite. Xiu Xiu sounds like the little brother of Fugazi, but with a penchant for fucking with time signatures and individual notes. The Dead Science mixes Prince, Yes, and hints of mid-‘90s indie rock, often in the same song.
Last year’s EP, Bird Bones in the Bughouse, hinted at what Frost Giant brings to fruition. This is a band meant for full-lengths, even double albums. The songs, even the ones that more traditionally rock, unfold at a pace that is glorious in its luxuriousness. Every song bleeds into the next so that what sounds like a break is actually a beginning, and vice versa. It’s jazzy and compelling. With the first few listens, the songs seem to meander. Then, a few more plays reveal a larger structure that will have the listener standing in front of her stereo, cueing back to hear exactly how the band went from, say, the lightly strummed guitar fade of “Sam Mickens’ Dream” to the softly blowing horn intro of “The Future, Forever (Until U Die)”. Or, how “Black Stockings” can manage to sound like goth Cabaret Voltaire in one section and free-jazz as a slow lullaby in another. Musically, the record is a cornucopia of history and ideas, made better by the fact that the players—Sam Mickens (guitar, vocals), Jherek Bischoff (upright bass), Nick Tamburro (drums)—sound both professional and utterly emotional in their approach.
Take a David Lynch movie. Notice how he, in the creepiest of scenes, will suddenly drop the noise out to make it even creepier. Then, as the scene gets ready to wrap up, he’ll insert music back into it. The Dead Science could easily be that music. They have the ability to encapsulate both the horror and beauty of life. As stated in the first paragraph, it really has to do with the fragility of everything. “And ready for her amputation / Under the purple light / Under the sun / The surgeon’s mask” Sam Mickens whispers on “In the Hospital”, directly before the music comes crashing back in. First, it’s at a halting pace, hitting every note precisely. Then it begins to careen out of control. The drums sound like they’re coming in from the side, keyboards tap out notes that don’t quite seem to belong, and Mickens’ voice becomes howling and elegiac.
Like anything that can be considered Art Rock from the get-go, Frost Giant will only appeal to a certain segment of the music-listening public. But, also like those fringe records, the rewards to those who purchase are many, given the time. The Dead Science is quickly becoming one of the more distinct and great artists of a genre that appeals to those who are looking for challenges. Then, like a Roxy Music or Brian Eno, the fact that they seemed weird at first dissipates. Melodies are always at hand, just sometimes buried under thrilling experiment. It’s noise that mirrors the messiness of life. There’s not a note on Frost Giant that doesn’t sound absolutely sincere. Sure, it’s an obvious try-on of styles but never for Art’s sake. Rather, it all sounds like an attempt at true expression through music, never compromising for a minute. The Dead Science need to be watched, digested, loved. Twenty years from now, they will still be offering up gems buried in the notes.