The Toronto, Ontario dance-punk duo Death From Above 1979, led by Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler, have returned with their sophomore album titled The Physical World. This is arriving after the 10 year hiatus that followed soon after their debut You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine in 2004, of which they gained much praise from critics and garnered a sizable fan base that only continued to grow after they disbanded.
While there have been various side projects between the two members in their absence it still sounds like DFA79 pick everything up right where they left off. Their minimalistic formula of bass guitar, drums, and vocals are the structure for every song here with exception of the occasional synthesizer. The band plays to their strengths though and opens the album up the track “Cheap Talk“. The shots of distortion, jittering high hats, fluttering synthesizers in the background and heavy bass riffs leaves no doubt that they’ve returned with the same energy and sound that made them unique.
Tracks like “Right On, Frankenstein!” show the band maintaining their punk sound while “Always On” and “Crystal Ball” show some influence from traditional hard rock bands while still sating reminiscent of their older material. One of the big surprises on this album though is the sixth track “White Is Red“, which is a much more melancholy track in its tone than any song they’ve made, with its reverbed synths accompanying the lyrics well. It’s on the ninth track where the album comes back in full swing with “Government Trash” where the vocal delivery is given some strain over the chorus before transitioning to the next verse with an energetic bass line and electronics that build this jam to its climax.
The final standout song is the title track that concludes this album “The Physical World“, which is the most doom metal influenced song from this band yet. It’s easily the heaviest track DFA79 has made instrumentally to date and is still something to move to. The bass is aggressive and the synths have an almost atmospheric sound in the background of the instrumentation towards the back end of the track before fading out.
The band certainly ends everything with a bang, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few missteps along the way. Tracks like “White Is Red” and “The Physical World” hint to some versatility in the bands sound and where it could go while some seem generic or a retread of old material, such as the song “Nothin’ Left” which has a bass line that sounds a little too similar to “Little Girl” off their debut to me. There’s also “Trainwreck, 1979” and “Virgins” that might work as radio friendly singles but grow a little monotonous and sound a little sluggish without bringing the same energy in tracks like “Right On, Frankenstein!” or “Cheap Talk“.
Overall, this was a decent comeback for a band who’s reputation was built primarily on one album. Death From Above 1979 makes little attempt to fix what wasn’t broken but still bring with them a handful of surprises that pack enough of a punch to keep listeners hooked ’till their next album. 2024 can’t come soon enough!
The Physical World releases Tuesday, September 9, 2014.
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