Death From Above 1979

By Matt Won

Hey, you need to hear this new metal band, they’re like metal, but they only use drums and bass, and they’re really ’80s, it’s super cool, and you can dance to it too. Yeah, excuse me, I need to go get a root canal drilled right now, but yeah, that sounds great. I’m all about screwing the hype, especially the retro-revivalist hype, ever since the Strokes became the greatest band in the world overnight. Death From Above 1979’s sophomore LP You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine (Last Gang/Vice) seemed destined for that route, which is why you’re reading this review way after the album’s initial release.

They seemed primed to win over hipsters everywhere: a legal dispute with production team DFA (with whom DFA ’79 is in no way affiliated?) The indie press ate it up, and the stage was set.

This hype shouldn’t impress anyone. What should impress is the overwhelming wall of sound that duo Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler make with pretty much just drums and bass, respectively, creating instantly likeable noise-rock, no small feat.

Much hullabaloo has been made about how this album is so eminently danceable: I frankly couldn’t care less. For a music nerd who’s stomped about as much dance floor as Bill Gates, I own a staggering amount of music that has been attached with this “dance” moniker, but I have my reasons. This seems to be quite the trendy thing in “indie” music these days: hipster critics telling the tragically hip masses how danceable all this great new music is, and said masses nodding, as if they knew what the hell that meant or what to do with it if they actually heard it in a club. At any rate, from what I’ve seen, you indie and hipster kids need to stop dancing anyway: just because you’re different and special and dance to your own beat doesn’t mean you’re any good.

The truth is, when you see “dance” or “danceable” in a music review, that generally means that the critic is trying to give you the impression that he/she actually truly does dance, usually a false claim.

I make no such pretension.

To me, “dance” is music critic-ese for heavy grooves and rhythms and/or trippy breakbeats: DFA ’79 is “dance” in the best sense, the reason why a lot of good music gets slapped with the “D” word, and why people like me buy it. The crushing, insanely overdriven rhythms and rapturous vocals here are a rush like the Energizer Bunny on meth, pounding you in the ass with those drum sticks. This is music by nouveau metal guys who mastered all the new tricks the other dogs were too old or young to learn: they remember the glory days of metal, when slamming guitar-driven music was “headbanger” and not “dance” music. Sigh, it’s a sign of the times.

DFA ’79’s deliriously exquisite, ultra-hip boiler room of colliding sounds to me most resembles TV On The Radio’s nigh-flawless debut, especially in some of the vocal harmonies.

This is like the metal post-punk Illmatic: as their effective instrumental and lyrical minimalism shows, these guys know when less is more, and this album clocks in at just over 30 minutes. Don’t let all the physical abuse metaphors throw you: DFA ’79 is interested in writing pop songs. Melody remains at the core of this noise assault, and this pop sensibility is what sets them apart. Structured songs with massive riffs and even more massive hooks fly by at such an incredible clip that you find yourself constantly torn between rewinding and just continuing listening for what’ll happen next.

The title of the album gives exceptional insight into the thematic duality behind this album’s lyrical thrust. “You’re a woman, I’m a machine.” So “you’re a complex person with complex needs, and I’m just a machine who can’t fulfill them and love you,” or “you’re a woman, and I’m a machine ready to do to you what must be done.”

Given the overwhelming musical presence of this record, the duo’s songwriting talents have been almost universally ignored. If they didn’t kick such an unreasonable amount of ass, these boys could get flack for their almost-emo lyrical content. But the “almost-emo” part in reality is just timeless quality songwriting (most good writing has some element that you could knock for being “emo”), and given the musical context it is offered in, it’s positively brilliant. On “Romantic Rights”: “I know you love me you don’t know what you like / You’re watching TV I stay up all night / I don’t need you / I want you.”

For an album so steeped in the trendiness of the moment, being perfectly timed to inject exactly what’s needed into the indie scene, its blend of influences gives it a sound out of time. The sound is one of ecstatic urgency, frenzied decadence, ambivalence and indulgence. They range from an ’80’s retro-hip swagger on “Sexy Results” to the manic/cool/crisis of “Turn It Out.”

The former opens the album with an atonal, screeching harbinger of Armageddon, until the bass/drums assault drops with all the apocalyptic bludgeon of a hydrogen bomb. I’ve been trying to quit listening to my music at the highest volume. About five seconds into this record, I was back in the habit. BIG TIME.

This album is a rush, a shot in the arm, dynamite on plastic, it’s–oh, what the hell, maybe it is good dance music. Go pick up this record, and do your special unique little hipster dance to it, if you must.

E-mail Matthew at [email protected]