I remember my introduction to the band Death from Above 1979. I was sitting at my lunch table back in high school when my good friend sits down next to me wearing a pink shirt featuring two faces with elephant trunks. I asked, “What’s up with your shirt?” He let me know that it was from a band called Death from Above 1979, one of his favorite bands that I should definitely check out. You would think a band name like that matched with the image on the shirt would stick with me, but it took a good year before I finally checked them out. Specifically, their first full length You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. As with most of the reactions to that album, I was blown away. Never have I heard something so raw, energetic, and catchy in one package, all done by two people; Jesse Keeler on bass and synths, Sebastien Grainger on vocals and drums. Now, a decade later, Death from Above 1979 is back with their new full length album The Physical World.
From the get go on opener “Cheap Talk,” there are some delightful similarities to their last album, but the band seems to be showing a more pop sound. The song is a pretty good introduction, but it’s nowhere near the attention grabber the next track “Right on, Frankenstein!” is; it features far more energy and one of the best outros I have ever heard from a rock band. Most of the rest of the album sticks close to the band’s trademark, quick, raw, and catchy sound, which is good by all means… in some ways.
I can’t help but have a “been there, heard that” feel during some sections. For example; the introduction riffs to “Crystal Ball” and “Nothing Left” sound like they were copy and pasted from some of the band’s previous work. Sure, I enjoyed their previous work a lot, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it just slapped onto a new piece. The band does make an effort to include some new elements. A notable change is found in “White is Red”, mainly because it is the slowest Death from Above 1979 have ever gone. While it is not bad, I really do not think the sappy, slow song is a great sound for the band. There is also a nice amount of synths found throughout this record, which always seem to freshen up the tracks they are in. My favorite use is found in the outro to the album, “The Physical World”. With the ascending electronic melodies in the intro, the hits that harmonize with the vocals in the chorus, and the airy, atmospheric keyboards on the latter section, the song really broaden 1979’s horizons.
As previously mentioned, Keeler and Grainger are the only two people producing all the sounds you hear, most of which are just as simple as Keeler playing the bass and Grainger on the drums and doing vocals. This would usually sound shallow and feel like something is missing, but Death from Above 1979 pull it off very well. Keeler’s bass almost does not sound like a bass; it sounds more like a slightly down-tuned guitar with some extra grit to it. That tone has always been one of my favorite things about the band, mainly because it is versatile enough to play as leads and support simultaneously. Keeler’s playing obviously takes a lot of influence from punk and metal, which fits with the ferocity the band is known for, and he creates some great hooks. Some of these riffs sound similar to others, as previously mentioned, while others give the band some new depth, like the doom metal sounding melody featured on the last part of the track “The Physical World.”
Drummers who also fill the role of the vocalist are always an easy way to really impress me, and Grainger is no exception. His drumming, while never being technically impressive, always fits very well with whatever the band is trying to do, whether it is a punk beat for a fast, in your face song, or a catchy one for a chorus. Vocally, Grainger is obviously very talented, displaying some great range and, at times, intensifying the song. The only gripe I have with his vocals is actually related to the intensity. With their first album, we saw just how much energy he has. At a lot of moments, he would really yell rather than sing. With this release, Grainger seems to tune down and stick with singing most of the time, which takes away from the rawness factor the band once had.
To sum it up, The Physical World definitely shows that Death from Above 1979 is a force to be reckoned with. The band did lose some of that umph they had in their first release, as well as having some song writing flaws here and there, but there are just too many great moments for it to take away from the experience. Like their last record, some of these tunes will be on loop in your head for hours on end, making every listen just that more satisfying.
Tracks worth checking out: “Right on, Frankenstein!”, “Virgins”, “Always on”, “Government Trash”, “The Physical World”