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Album review: Praiseworthy sound redeems Death From Above 1979 from its 10-year absence

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Click to enlarge.

There’s no better way to prove your hold on a cult following than to keep those people salivating for an entire decade before giving them more to worship.

Granted, the two collaborators of this gospel of dance-punk realized they hated each other/forgot they loved music shortly after releasing 2004’s banger of a debut, “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.” The two worked things out on terms — more or less — to shut everyone up about how bad the side projects of Death From Above 1979 were compared to the original drum and bass endeavor.

Drummer Sebastien Grainger told music magazine NME: “No matter what (bass player) Jesse (F. Keeler) and I do, on whatever scale of success it’s sat on, there’s always some kind of reference to Death From Above … So we’re putting out a Death From Above record and if the press is like, ‘It’s not what we expected,’ or however they react to it, it’s like, ‘Well you’ve been f—ing asking for it.’”

It was, truly, the ultimate disclaimer to any negativity — not that anyone will really complain about this release to begin with. It’s been 10 years, for Christ’s sake.

“The Physical World” opens with an immediate headbanger, “Cheap Talk.”  Smacking the body of his bass to induce the introductory chomping noises over the long-awaited dance beat, Keeler and his signature clobbering, muck-tone drop into yet another gloriously minimal groove that make DFA1979 so worth any sort of wait. Grainger has never been one to leave behind the hip-gyrating, loud-as-hell drumming for flashy experimentation, staying true to the dance rhythms of any club theme.  With the space granted by the drums to the arpeggiated bassline, “Cheap Talk” perhaps holds the greatest overall hook in the record as well as an apparent theme throughout the record: Jesse F. Keeler can straight-up rip.

Grainger slips into his ever-reminiscent “girls and boys all suck” lyricism as if to ease the old listeners into the new decade (dare I say, era) of Death From Above: “What he said / What she said / It doesn’t really matter in the end / I can see it going fast / talk is cheap, will never last” into the outro groove with “She’s in the backseat buying everything he says / While he’s burning like a book, catch a look in the mirror’s edge / you can turn around, you can turn around.” Only through Grainger’s rude and bratty tonal attitudes can such simplicity be executed in a way that comes off as “real.”

The album’s two singles, “Trainwreck 1979” and “Government Trash,” share back-half positions on the record. “Trainwreck”’s lyrical content seems to be the arena-rock epic tale of DFA1979’s conquests, maybe.  As stupid as it sounds, the track is hard to not fall in love with. Though overly dramatic, maybe even romantic in the bridge — “A poison cloud, a flaming sky, 200,000 people and no one died / And all before a pocket dial” — the 10-year absence (can’t underline that enough) is most likely what makes this track as huge and meaningful.

As far as change in sound goes, “White Is Red” gives the band so many future possibilities if they so choose to make another record (in 2024, if we’re lucky). The mid-album track stands as this unique, murky ballad referring to some 16-year-old heartbreaker chick named Frankie. Initially the song’s young girl, daddy’s car and “crossed the line” metaphors seem weak and cliché. It’s not until the first hook’s “Why don’t you leave me, she asked that night / I said I’ll steer, I know the kid is mine” enters the second verse, developing the story with Frankie’s stealing the car from the song’s protagonist (Grainger?) and driving off. The hook then becomes, “Why did you leave me alone that night / You took off racing, the kid is mine.”  As the dark, bouncing beat takes off into the final third of the song, a “she crossed the line” chant happens until the final verse climax, “She went left, double line / Out of love, out of time / I cover my eyes / I know she crossed the line.” It’s truly an excellent piece of poetry from someone whose expertise resides more in s— talking female subjects about being horrible girlfriends or boring people.

“Government Trash” is one of the more obvious nods to the first album. Gnarly, interlocked bass and drum parts thrash into the most shredder lead of the record – not once, but twice! Grainger’s trademark double bass kicks sneak in to end the tune, and it’s completely out-of-control in the perfect way.

Basically, “The Physical World” could not have been a crappy record. The band’s cult-audience has been completely celibate up until Tuesday’s release — and make no mistake with “release,” pun intended. That being said, if this record came out one or two years after the debut, who’s to say the opinions, reviews and success would be more positive or negative?

Be sure to find out for yourself.


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