Bass Drum of Death: Bass Drum of Death

The generous reverb endows every riff with a neon glow and the smell of cheeseburgers and fries served on an open car windowsill.

Bass Drum of Death

Bass Drum of Death

Label: Innovative Leisure
US Release Date: 2013-06-25
UK Release Date: 2013-06-03

There’s a certain distaste to exploiting something impoverished for aesthetic purposes. That goes as much for economic circumstances as it does for works of art. Passes can be granted, for example to the Jesus & Mary Chain for their work on Psychocandy. The sonically destroyed wall-of-feedback sound quality of the recording was arguably a consequence of apathy more than intent. Theirs was not a desire to sound worse than their potential. It was a desire to record loud and raw while timidly hiding in the shadows of their own cacophony. I feel the same way about the recent work by A Place to Bury Strangers or the Raveonettes and even most of the catalog of the Strokes. The major difference between all these records is that the latter ones don’t skimp on the benefits of modern production. They sound great despite the layers of feedback and fuzz. Bass Drum of Death’s new self-titled LP reaches for similar territory with heavy hooked noise-pop, but, despite access to all the modern conveniences, the balance just isn’t right.

The heavily distorted snare roll which kicks off “I Wanna Be Forgotten” is so high in the treble spectrum that it borders on static rather than a crisp snap. Most of the snare drums on this album have a similar quality (or lack thereof). The guitar which is, of course, the only instrument which sounds very much at home draped in veils of shimmering, clanging distortion, is delightfully performed pop rock. The songwriting is equally strong and each track on the record sounds like the jukebox of a retro Drive-In Diner as re-imagined by someone whose only experience with the era is from vintage recordings. That someone is Oxford, Mississippi’s John Barrett. The original member, he reportedly records his records entirely on his own, often performing with nothing more than a kick drum and a guitar, though lately he's running with a second guitar and drummer. Sadly that new depth seems to be oppressed by the desire to flatten every sound.

“Such a Bore” is what might happen if Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli were taught to play guitar, transported to 2013, and given some modern narcotics. “No Demons” and “Bad Reputation” follow suit often recalling the Ramones’ simplicity with none of the practiced or tight delivery. The generous reverb endows every riff with a neon glow and the smell of cheeseburgers and fries served on an open car windowsill.

“Faces of the Wind” slows things down but in doing so really brings to the surface the largest problem with the record – Barretts’ hollow vocals. It’s entirely unclear whether the heavily applied effect is intended to sound “old school” or just hide an insecurity with this vocal delivery. Recording the same record with a balanced, unfiltered or even heavily produced vocal quality would have had a significant positive impact without necessarily having sacrificed the vintage quality. This is demonstrated superbly by Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. Sounding old doesn’t have to mean sounding bad. When the inexperienced look upon historical artifacts we have a tendency to think the medium was inseparable from the message. Our rock ancestors recorded like that because we hadn’t yet developed options. The retro sound is awesome – King Khan and BBQ’s The King Khan and BBQ Show LP is a perfect example of exactly what Bass Drum of Death are trying to do, but done with a higher quality rating. Retro recording is overrated. So when presented with the ability to do far better, in cases like this, we can only wonder why Bass Drum of Death chose not to. Their songwriting is fantastic and the melodies are extremely catchy but overall It feels like a lack of effort – a cheap gimmick – especially when they’ve clearly got the chops to pull off something greater.

And yet, putting that one large complain aside, it's still a great album.





Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.


Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.


Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.


The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.


'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.


Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.


PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.


Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.


'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.


GOD's 'God IV - Revelation' Is a Towering Feat of Theologically-Tinged Prog Metal (album stream)

GOD's God IV - Revelation is beautiful and brutal in equal measure. It's a masterful series of compositions. Hear it in full today before tomorrow's release.


Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.