"Hitting right at the time where harder-edged music is seeing a resurgence"



It would have been easy to write off Death from Above 1979 as an early 2000’s act that blew up quickly and faded into the sunset like so many other bands. Their 2004 debut LP, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine garnered good reviews from fans and critics alike (also inspiring CSS’s dance hit ”Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death from Above” in the process), but after that, Death from Above 1979 went quiet, breaking up in 2006 after releasing only one album. After that, member Jesse F Keeler formed the popular remix act MSTRKRFT while the other member, Sebastien Alexandre Grainger went off to form Sebastien Grainger and The Mountains. It was safe to assume the band was a flash in the pan, one of many bands that release a great LP and disappear into the darkness, sometimes off to more successful groups.

But, in 2011, Death From Above announced an unexpected reunion, and later an album, the soon to be released The Physical World.

Even compared to DFA’s previous efforts, The Physical World is a breath of fresh air, hitting right at the time where harder-edged music is seeing a resurgence. Acts like Perfect Pussy, Savages and Royal Blood have been exploding in ways nobody could have predicted, and DFA has re-emerged to establish themselves as unlikely elder statesmen in the emerging sub-genre.

“[this isn’t] bro-rock, the banal, compression-choked sound that accompanies every fucking deodorant commercial or action movie trailer”

For years, rock music has laid stagnant, separated into a couple different, equally boring camps. There’s what I term ‘bro-rock’, the banal, compression-choked sound that accompanies every fucking deodorant commercial or action movie trailer, songs that are only good enough to be listened to in five second bursts while you watch Jeremy Renner punch a guy in the throat. On the other side, there’s the sludge that is metal, a genre that has become so turned in on itself that it believes that every singer has to sound like Cookie Monster with emphysema singing through a bucket of gravel combined with deliriously complex guitar riffage that showcases that, yes, the guitar player really knows his shit when it comes to hammering on a thousand notes in five seconds, but that doesn’t make the music any more listenable.



These new acts emerging are establishing a middle ground where the guitars can still be loud, the drums can still sound like thunder, but once again featuring concepts like ‘melody’, ‘rhythm’, and ‘not sounding like an asshole chugging Monster Energy Drink’, concepts that seem to be lost on a majority of hard rock.

“The Physical World might be the most pure example of the new form of listenable hard rock we’ve heard so far”

Despite coming as the latest part in the wave of these new releases, The Physical World might be the most pure example of the new form of listenable hard rock we’ve heard so far. Perfect Pussy’s Say Yes To Love is still a better album, but is more raw and rough than DFA’s release. From the first seconds of the album’s lead track, “Cheap Talk”, it’s clear that DFA haven’t missed a step in perfecting their hard driving, electronic-tinged sound featuring clean vocals from Keeler. It’s a track that’s immediately danceable, with rattling percussion and dirty, grinding guitars combining to produce something truly special, and something that fills a void in the musical landscape a lot of people probably didn’t know existed until DFA came around to fill it.

The first half of the album drives on with the same intensity, hammering home roaring guitars and soaring vocals on standout songs like “Always On” and “Virgins”.

It’s a little unfortunate that an album riding so much goodwill and energy would hit a wall right at the middle with the maudlin “White is Red”, a song that sucks all the energy out of the album in a pretty unexpected way. It’s not that it’s a terrible song, in fact, some of the lyrics and vocal performances are pretty stellar, and it might have been fine at the album or as a b-side, but as it stands, it’s a big roadblock in the middle of an album that moves at light speed for so long.

All isn’t lost, though, after one clunker in “White is Red” and the radio-friendly single “Trainwreck 1979”, because the album comes back with a vengeance with an amazing 4-song streak concluding with “Gemini” and the title track “The Physical World”, both of which are outstanding examples of the kind of sound DFA has perfected. The title track in particular is a dramatic send-off to cap off the album, featuring a more electronic sound than the other tracks on the album, taking Death’s sound into the stratosphere.

In the end, this is a great album from a band a lot of people had, very rightly so, written off. We’re seeing an amazing wave of music that’s not afraid to rock as hard as possible while still presenting a listenable and melodic experience, and The Physical World is a great blueprint for what will hopefully become a much more popular trend. And with Royal Blood recently outselling debut albums from The Strokes, The xx, Vampire Weekend and Mumford & Sons – We’re on the right path.


Written by Sean May. Published 2014/09/03. More articles.

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