Ten years ago Death From Above 1979 released their debut, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine–a perfect album of deadlocked distorted rock sleaze. Then, the group went dormant and broke up. Surging quietly back into the scene, they return with the follow up, The Physical World.
The opener “Cheap Talk” brings us right back to 2004. “I go crazy the way she makes me be on my knees,” drummer and singer Sebastien Grainger sings against the chugging bass of Jesse Keeler. The two-man group wrestle a heavy tar-thick rock and roll sound from so little. They prove that all a rock band essentially needs is rhythm and attitude to succeed. Death From Above 1979 are stocked with both.
They’ve not lost a step since their debut. Plenty of the songs fall into the same pace set on You’re A Woman. “Government Trash” pogos along with abrasive snare blasts. Grainger’s vocals get hoarse, teetering on the edge of a scream. The bass gets meatier with every hard-driving chug.
Their unmistakable sound and style remain intact, and that alone, is hard to dislike. “Crystal Ball,” “Gemini” and “Nothing Left” all exhibit heavy bass-shredding and tight jack-rabbit drum-pounds. They discover a new groove on “White Is Red,” the album’s best song. Grainger’s vocals are seared and ambivalent as he details the story of a vanished lover. Keeler walks his bass through the shadowy groove.
Grainger’s wiley vocals continue to be the anchor to every song. “Where have all the virgins gone? / Sleeping on their parents’ lawn,” he sings through the fuzz on “Virgins.” The whiplash chorus of “Right On, Frankenstein!” is instantly etched into the memory.
On “Always On” Grainger damns the dangers of the all-consuming Internet Age. “If we brought Kurt back to life / There’s no way he would survive,” he postulates about Kurt Cobain.
At times on The Physical World Death From Above attempt to fill the gaps of their sound with rubbish filler keyboards that mostly bring the songs to places they don’t need to go. “Trainwreck 1979” starts with a heavy bass rumble but quickly turns left into a swooning chorus with layers of rising keyboards.
Had The Physical World been released sooner on the heels of Death From Above’s addictive debut, it easily could have been remembered as the latter album’s equivalent. Unfortunately, with ten years in between, it doesn’t have that same kick. The Physical World still rocks and sounds like no other band, but, with all its minor attempts at evolution, it doesn’t strengthen or push their sound forward. In the end it merely serves as a reminder of what the two men with elephant trunks did so well a decade ago and invites more repeat listens of album number one.