Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Death From Above 1979 Gets Physical

Death From Above 1979
The Toronto duo Death From Above 1979 released a crashing debut that made its mark on the moment. But no matter how good the sound of You're A Woman, I'm A Machine in 2004, the band's success was shockingly short lived. They broke up in 2006, well before laying down a sophomore album.

Five years after the split, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler patched up whatever differences they had and reunited on February 2011. They showcased their first new song a little more than a year later and, finally, the sophomore album that didn't happen a decade ago.

The Physical World plays exactly like the title implies. 

The highly anticipated follow up retains much of the bass riffs, synth stylings, and driving drum work from a decade ago, but it grabs onto the dance-punk moniker despite feeling refined for the times. The Physical World is nothing less than a physical album with one foot in rock, the other in punk, and pop-leaning vocals.

But that is not to say this is the same band that rolled electro-metal through an alternative pop grinder as it was once described a decade ago. This is a band trying very hard to convince the crowd that they can pick up where they left off. They might have done it too if wasn't for the reliance on polished sameness.

To be clear, The Physical World is a rousing album, but it doesn't come anywhere close to feeling as significant as You're A Woman, I'm A Machine. That doesn't mean it's bad. Much of it is stompable.

Trainwrek 1979 illustrated the division between the two decades. The song is solid, but breaks too too mainstream pop for its own good. Even where the band could create some cyclonic crunchy climaxes, they rob themselves from letting go on what would be naturally explosive moments into fade outs and synth daintiness.

Not to worry. There are meatier moments on the album. Right On, Frankenstein is much more convincing that the duo is back with all the fire, fury, and lightning that they abandoned years ago. It's also the most fitting starting place to sample the album if you want to like the resurrection.

Death From Above 1979 follows it up with Virgins, which has enough heaviness to hang with melodic metal bands. The only shortcoming to the track is in the lyrics. Grainger and Keeler manage to muscle past the junior high school summer tell all with big riffs and deep drums, ensuring it will still become a favorite at live shows.

The album does become slightly spotty toward the middle. Always On is largely forgettable despite the Cobain reference. Crystal Ball will find some fans among the mainstream rock crowd. White Is Red drifts into a full- throttle throwback pop song with a sleeper tempo. They don't really climb out of the pop rut until Government Trash, when the band loosens up enough to be a little messy.

Government Trash is a badly needed burst of what Death From Above 1979 used to sound like, with significantly more punk attitude in the writing as well as the music. The attitude is etched into Gemini too, a tune about a suicide-minded girlfriend, and on the title track that closes out the album with another furious burst of defeatism and disconnect from the physical world.

The Physical World By Death From Above 1979 Rains 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

If you think of You're A Woman, I'm A Machine as an 8 or 9 on a traditional scale, this album lands somewhere around 6 or 7. It's not that The Physical World misses as much as it doesn't maintain the intensity the band is capable of throughout the album. The best bet is to grab up the heavier songs even if the those poppy pieces will likely garner more attention and split the band's future following.

The Physical World [+digital booklet] by Death From Above 1979, a.k.a. DFA 1979, can be found on Amazon or downloaded from iTunes. The album, The Physical World, can also be purchased from Barnes & Noble. Expect even more from the duo during their live shows, which feel heavier than their studio work.
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