Review: Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World

If we are to take Death From Above 1979’s claims at face value and believe that they are indeed machines, then fans should be glad to hear that they are at least constructed from materials incapable of rust.  You would be hard-pressed to believe that it’s been a decade since You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, because DFA1979’s long-awaited follow-up doesn’t miss a beat.  The Physical World does everything you would ask following a landmark debut–it maintains the spirit and essence of what made the original so brilliant (perhaps with an edge or two smoothed over), while at the same time attempting new tricks that keep the new music sounding like a mere rehash of previous ideas.  In other words, all previous devotees should be fully satisfied, and perhaps the band will pick up some new fans as well.

Death From Above 1979 proves that their formula of stripped-down rock reliant on bass and drums (but not drum and bass) still works, filling the album with plenty of riffs that are both fast and furious.  “Right On, Frankenstein!” and “Gemini” would fit right in with some of the more blistering tracks from their debut, like “Little Girl” or “Romantic Rights”.  “Gemini” has several catchy parts that will certainly stick in the minds of the listener (the pre-chorus of “she cries on her birthday” and the chorus of “24/7–still believes in heaven” will definitely be parts that the audience will be shouting along with at their concerts) and “Right On, Frankenstein!”  features a terrific outro, with the band stopping on a dime before slipping into a furiously-picked rapid-fire 32nd-note bass riff that ends with a bang.

The band also stretches out a bit with great success, dipping into sludge-rock territory with the “Virgins” and getting damn near close to writing a ballad with “White Is Red”.  The latter features an inventive bass part that utilizes a gorgeous unique tone that shows that simply because the band uses a limited set of instruments, it doesn’t mean that their sonic palette is in any way constricted.  The lyrics are also some of their best work to date; DFA1979 always were able to come up with an incisive line or individual memorable lyrics, but the heartbreaking story of a spurned lover and an unplanned teenage pregnancy in “White Is Red” shows that the duo can craft a complete song and are capable of invoking previously unknown subtle emotions in the listener.  It also ends up being the perfect setup to the lead single “Trainwreck 1979”, which sounds as terrific and energetic on the album as it does when it’s livening up rock radio’s otherwise generally moribund playlist.  (It also may bear an interesting connection to the previous track, as the track begins with the details of the protagonist’s birth.)

The album ends with the epic title track, a song that shifts from a goofy 8-bit melody into a frenetic punk rocker before ending on a throwback 80’s metal coda, which fades seamlessly into a classical piano outro that mirrors the previous melody, processed through a filter that evokes the soundtrack of a classic horror film from the Silent Era.  With the coda, Jesse Keeler comes as close to a bass “solo” as you’re likely to hear from the duo, and Sebastien Grainger shows off some of the drum tricks he’s picked up in the decade since their debut.  Once you hear that, you gain a new appreciation for Grainger’s rhythmic support throughout the album, noticing how he’s not only driving the beat but also engaging intriguing melodic support as well by effortlessly shifting styles and patterns.  But most importantly, the radical shift at the end shows fans that the band is capable of exploring even more styles, and that the band won’t be running out of ideas anytime soon.

You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine still is in my regular rotation ten years later, and at this point I’m willing to predict that The Physical World will follow the same path as well.  It’s already been stuck in my car’s stereo for the past week, and the good news is that I’m not even beginning to get tired of the album.  In other words, it’ll be definitely making an appearance on our Best Of list for 2014.

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