Ten years on, Death from Above 1979 kicks just as much ass.
Welcome back, gentlemen, it’s been too long...
...is an understatement. It was a decade ago that the two Ontario dudes that call themselves Death from Above 1979 set the rock world on fire with their incendiary debut album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. This was just a year after the White Stripes’ garage rock landmark Elephant and the same year as The Black Keys’ Rubber Factory. Death From Above 1979’s American peers used the two player dynamic to amp up guitar licks and thumping rhythm. DFA, on the other hand, were all about the low end. Jesse Keeler’s bass was speedy and could spit fire like a six string, but would never be mistaken for one; there was too much grit in the sound. Sabastian Granger avoided the 4/4 thwomp of Meg White, his hyper active drumming keeping up with his yelps. The blues were somewhere in their foundation, but glam and punk were also on display. Their giddy descriptions of debauchery closed the gap between DFA and their closest sonic relations Queens of the Stone Age (Josh Homme even recognized the kinship and hopped aboard a remix album). So one album, a smattering of remixes, a handful of EPs then—nothing. By 2006 Keeler and Granger had moved onto new projects, leaving rock with a DFA shaped hole. The duo started touring again in 2011, but the wait has been excruciating. So 10 years later, what’s the verdict? The Physical World is, thankfully, one of those rare returns that makes it seem like no time has passed at all. It’s a logical progression from their debut, and it kicks just as much ass.
Kiss frontman and general curmudgeon Gene Simmons recently declared that rock is dead; if that’s true, then DFA are doing their best to reanimate it. To go back to the Queens of the Stone Age comparison, The Physical World and Queens’ 2013 LP …Like Clockwork are two of the best rock albums of the last few years because they’re... *gasp*... fun. There have certainly been more cerebral albums in 2014, but few have been this ecstatic. Granger’s wailing is just as energetic as ever, reviewing tales of delicious sleaze with obvious relish. His drumming has never been better, proven by the speed demon click-clack of “Crystal Ball” and the mad rush of “Turn On”’s outro. Keeler is in a league of his own on bass. No one has the same mastery of four-string lead like he does. The general jittery feeling the album owns is also due to a sense of campiness that creeps into the songs. Keeler’s blindingly fast riff on “Government Trash” sounds like the score to Ghouls and Goblins, “Right on, Frankenstein!” has Ganger screaming, “always too much talking, not enough eating brains!” The title track starts as the soundtrack to a particularly epic final boss fight and ends with a sonic jump scare, perfect for a Halloween dance party.
Death From Above 1979 also go big on The Physical World. Lead single “Trainwreck 1979” was proof of that, but from the starting alarm notes of opening track “Cheap Talk,” it’s clear that DFA are making up for lost time. Yes, they’re a two man band, but they make more noise than all 47 members of Arcade Fire put together. Each chorus is handcrafted for shout-alongs, all embedded with just the right amount of lust. The stomping “Virgins” has Granger shouting, “where have all the virgins gone?” The opening cry of “I was born on a highway in a trainwreck” on “Trainwreck 1979” is badass-edly nonsensical enough to become the most screamed lyric of this year’s festival circuit. The duo slows it down to a sensual burn on make-out anthem “White is Red” and “Right on, Frankenstein!” is one of the finest they’ve put to tape. The first bit is mosh worthy punk, then comes the outro. Keeler’s bass solo is near regal in its brilliance, and the sudden kick of Granger’s drums propels the whole thing into rock glory.
All of these tracks show Death From Above 1979’s strongest weapon: momentum. Even in the pauses between snare hits or bass riffage, the music still moves. The starting energy that Granger and Keeler use to launch the album never dissipates, it simply flows in continuous catchiness. If it wasn’t for the brief misstep of “Gemini” and Granger being cheeky enough to sing “Oh no!/Not again/I get the feeling this is never gonna end,” The Physical World would be near flawless. As it stands, it’s still one of the year’s finest and worth the wait. When Granger screams, “the story never ends as long as we have blood and guts,” it sounds like he’s got plenty of both. Let us pray to the music gods that it’s not another decade before their next one; rock needs more adrenaline shots like this.