It seems like nostalgia has been overpowering modern culture lately. Ten year old movies are suddenly getting sequels greenlit, Tumblr expounds upon the joys of the original Pokemon series, and huge bands are reuniting to cash in for another round at the till.
You could say Death From Above 1979 is a product of this environment – in 2004, they released the massive You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, toured for a year, and then just…ended. And now that they’re back after so long, it would be easy to poke fun at these guys, now in their mid-30s, trying to recapture the fire that made their debut record so excellent.
It was no easy feat, but I think they’ve done it. Instead of just jumping into a studio to make a quick record to bolster their bank accounts, Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler first took DFA1979 around the world, touring the old material and road testing the new. This allowed them to genuinely get back in touch with what the band was and is supposed to be, and the result of this hard work is The Physical World.
For the most part, the sound of the band is largely unchanged from 2004. Keeler’s unique bass playing still anchors these songs with monster riffs and thick distortion, and Grainger’s drums lock in with him perfectly. The only true difference here is the layer of sheen and polish that You’re A Woman lacked, provided to them by their choice to work with producer Dave Sardy. On top of that, the band’s sense of songwriting and melody is much stronger as well, so naturally this record comes off as sounding ‘poppier’ than You’re A Woman.
Sheen and hooks don’t mean DFA1979 have lost their edge, though. Raw drums and noisy bass abound, and age hasn’t slowed down their tempo one bit. ‘Cheap Talk’ opens up the album with frenetic hi-hat work and a sleazy bass line, ‘Government Trash’ descends into near metal drumming, and ‘Gemini’ opens with crazy bends and punishing low notes. Like their debut, The Physical World is also a short and sweet rock n’ roll album. At only a little over 30 minutes in length, it flies by, fueled on sheer groove and energy alone. It’s a record that easily lends itself to back-to-back plays, and doesn’t require anything of the listener except a willingness to go along with it.
Lyrically, it seems like Grainger has more or less moved on from focusing solely on girls. You’re A Woman was powered by youthful romantic troubles, sort of like an Adele album if she had any balls. While there’s still girl songs like the excellent slow groove of ‘White is Red’, Grainger also tackles a range of topics. From the insanity of the internet connecting us to everything 24/7 (‘Always On’), never being satisfied with what you have and needing more (‘Trainwreck 1979’), to government censorship and policing on ‘Government Trash’, The Physical World is much more varied and wordly.
What The Physical World gives us is the follow up to You’re A Woman we should have gotten almost a decade ago. DFA1979 picks up almost exactly where they left off, which should be strange given how long it’s been. But it just works so damn well, and for that it’s forgivable that what they’ve created feels like a time capsule from 2004. You could criticize them for retreading old ground, but really – why bother? It may have taken a decade, but DFA1979 have finally delivered on the promise they once held, and few reunions manage to carry the same spirit the band once had like this one does. Through and through, The Physical World is just a great fucking rock record.
Key Tracks: Cheap Talk, Trainwreck 1979, The Physical World