By Teddy Wu
It’s hard to forget the first notes of “Turn It Out,” the opening track off of dance-punk duo Death From Above 1979’s 2004 debut album. With its wailing bass guitar and pumping drum beat, the track goes from zero to 60 instantly and never loses momentum.
This bangin’ attitude continues throughout studio album “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.” The 35-minute offering begs listeners to move with its inertia, and the record doesn’t sound any less intense and ‘in your face’ than it did when it dropped 10 years ago.
However, on DFA’s new album, “The Physical World,” these innovators bring a lot more dance and a lot less punk to the proverbial table.
DFA’s sound has tempered over the past decade.
The song tempos seem generally slower and more focused on head-nodding, fist-pumping grooves than aggressive up-tempo riffs. Compared to the two-minute-long fireball, “Pull Out” on “You’re a Woman,” catchier songs like “Trainwreck 1979” off “The Physical World” signify a loving return to disco.
Production-wise, the instrumentation as a whole sounds much cleaner than before. We hear Sebastien Grainger’s vocals featured more prominently, and Jesse Keeler, usually the bassist, adds more keyboard sounds to the mix.
All of this adds to the overarching dance feel of the album.
I welcome this sonic change of direction from DFA.
They appear to draw inspiration from the discography of LCD Soundsystem, a project that epitomizes the marriage of dance and punk, tuned for the indie ear. LCD recently broke up, so those who miss them will likely welcome a duo that sounds similar.
Garage rock revivalists The White Stripes and The Black Keys came out on top in 2004, and DFA followed suit with a hard-hitting, melody-driven LP.
Now, in 2014, where electronic dance music reigns king, the band returns with music more beat driven to keep up with the times.
“The Physical World” thus feels unique to this day and age, rather than an immediate successor to “You’re a Woman.”
Not all the songs off the new album tone down the intensity, however. The second single off the album, “Government Trash,” moves fast and holds nothing back. Grainger’s screams and Keeler’s bass riffs deliver a thorough ass kicking from start to finish. Personally, I’m partial to this kind of aggressive sound from DFA; the kind that hits you like a ton of bricks and doesn’t wait for you to get back up.
I appreciate what Death From Above 1979 moves toward with “The Physical World.” The duo has proven before that it can write some catchy hits.
But by being less aggravated and groovier, the results feel very mixed.
Death From Above 1979 will be playing at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on Tuesday, Nov. 18.