Published on September 6th, 2014 | by Callum Barnes0
Death From Above 1979: The Physical World
I don’t think words can fully describe the shock I (and probably a large portion of this band’s audience) got when we first turned on the debut album by Death From Above 1979. It was released in 2004… I actually came across it six years later in 2010. I couldn’t believe my ears – the pounding drums, the howling, distorted vocals and of course there was a bass guitar playing the lead lines on this thing. Where you would usually find guitar, there was bass. Having been too young to come across other bass orientated bands, such as Lightning Bolt, it was the jolt I needed. The first ten seconds of ‘Turn It Out’ will change your life. A few piano notes followed by a bass guitar sounding like it was being forced through a wa-wa pedal. It was bliss!
Since then two pieces have really become a popular mode of musical expression. Before Death From Above there was The White Stripes and some more underground acts, but bands have since come to the fore such as Blood Red Shoes, Drenge and DZ Deathrays. DZ probably owe DFA some rights for their first EP sounded exactly like the band, though they have now become their own bassy beast. The Black Keys have evolved so that they are now a four piece band live, so defeating the object of everything they stood for in the beginning and losing all rawness in the process. Royal Blood are now the mainstream UK charts answer to this two piece conundrum and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of reading people’s overenthusiastic comments about QOTSA riffs being used with a bass guitar- “it’s not something I’ve ever seen before, how is that possible??”. Nowadays? Really easy! Back in 2000 when Death From Above formed? Not so simple.
DFA hail from Toronto, Canada and comprise of Jesse F. Keeler (JFK) and Sebastien Grainger. Seb handles drums and vocal duties while JFK hits that bass guitar like he really, really hates it, which isn’t true of course, they clearly both love it- and each other, which is great news following their recent reunion. Splitting two years after their debut record ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’, the band now claim that the amicable decision was due to boredom- they’d been hitting the same riffs for half a decade and wanted to go their separate ways and do something else. Completely understandable! Its close quarters when touring with a band anyway, but when there’s only two of you there must be some intense arguments at times. The sound of JFK’s bass comes from him building his own amps himself – the octave pedals and things were a secondary motion, the distortion sound that comes from their music isn’t a pedal that you can buy and press, it was created through sheer hard work alone.
So, to the album. It’s more produced- as every effort of theirs has been. ‘Heads Up’ their debut EP sounded like two friends hitting everything they had in a garage (and it probably was), the first album was a more refined studio effort, and so this time around its more refined still. It’s ten years on, the riffs are more complex, the reasons are more straight forward (both parties have separate solo and other projects, so this is clearly ‘just for fun’) and it features some of their most aggressive, heavy and also poppy work to date. Opening with ‘Cheap Talk’, in a recent interview with Zane Lowe, the band expressed that this was the oldest song of the lot so it’s a fitting place to start. The riffs are immediately prominent and I’m immediately transported back to that first time. What’s admiral about this record is how different it is in comparison to the first efforts. There’s barely any use of extensive pedals apart from on ‘Gemini’. Instead they are both just working their asses off to create a more interesting listening experience for the audience. ‘Right On, Frankenstein!’ is a complete punk take over, sounding like Misfits and has some of the most excellent bass moments yet on it. Additions of synthesiser allow tracks like ‘Trainwreck 1979’ to expand into definite pop hits, while ‘Government Trash’ is DFA at their most raw and uncompromising. The final track – the title track- ‘The Physical World’ let’s everything get extremely prog Sabbath before exploding and allowing a tiny refrain to remain. Excellent stuff from a band everyone thought long dead.
Release date – 9th September 2014