Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (Album Review)

It’s already been 10 years since Toronto dance-punks Death From Above 1979 released their legendary debut album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. Two years following its release, Sebastien Granger and Jesse Keeler called it a day following one too many personal problems and an overall sense of growing apart. It took them 5 years before they announced a reunion in 2011, and a further 3 years for them to put out a new record, 2014’s The Physical World.

The album opens in classic DFA1979 fashion, with Cheap Talk’s fast drums and sharp distorted riffs being underpinned by arpegiating synths. A brief chorus of “what you said, what she said, it doesn’t really matter in the end” is sandwiched between dance-punk riffs, cowbells and Sebastien Granger’s loose vocals. The build up towards the end has some pop-punk vocal elements, before Right On, Frankenstein sees Jesse Keeler unleash a forceful riff alongside Grangers unstoppable. It’s the first massive chorus of the album, both fit for the radio and suitable for a mosh pit. It all breaks down towards the end and the pace slows down considerably as a fuzzy riff and chant of the song title bring the song to a headbang worthy end. Virgins builds on the epic riffs with a fuzz heavy swagger-rock riff and personal lyrics, which precede a big chorus of “where have all the virgins gone? Sleeping on their parent’s lawn”. Always On speeds the pace up with masterful guitar work, before Crystal Ball continues with the uptempo pace like a train that’s showing no signs of stopping. Harmonic chant and a slithery guitar riff in the verses are contrasted by a memorable chorus, underpinned by swirling synths. The song picks up in intensity towards the end, as it leads into White Is Red. This is the first moment on the album where we see DFA1979 enter ballad territory, as Granger sings about the 16 year old Frankie, describing her as “a heartbreaker”. It’s a perfect song for raising your hands in the air and singing at the top of your lungs, with its story-like lyrics adding extra emotion to the song.

Comeback single Trainwreck 1979 sees a story of a different kind being told, namely that of a large train accident which took place in 1979. Granger sings, “a poison cloud, a flaming sky, 200,000 people, and no one died”, describing that day in 1979 alongside a mix of chugging guitar riffs, bleeping synths and faint piano lines. Nothin’ Left is DFA1979-by numbers as another fuzzy riff and powerful drumming combo precedes a big, arena sized chorus. It’s by no means a bad song, but it does start to show the band following a similar formula once again. Government Trash follows in what is the heaviest song of the album, as extremely uptempo guitars and pounding drums accompany anti-Government lyrics and a bold claim of “nothing is free, call the police, they dress to care, I dress to die”. It’s by far the highlight of the album so far, yet that title isn’t hold for long as Gemini follows with an extremely skanky, whammy-laden riff. “Raspberry lips, never been kissed” sings Granger ahead of a large chorus in a song which doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The guitars are wicked and heavy, showing Jesse Keeler’s fantastic ability. The same riff may have been repeated a lot throughout the album (or at least a variation of that riff), but Keeler is still immensely good at what he does. The title track, The Physical World, brings the album to a close as it kicks off spiralling synths, gradually building up in and amongst a combination of hectic vocals and pounding crescendos. The pace then proceeds to pick up as Granger and Keeler’s falsetto vocals sing, “oh no, not again. I get the feeling that this is never gonna end”. It may not be at the same pace throughout, but the title track still mains an eerie sense of intensity and power over the course of its near 5-minute running time. The song is brought to a close by an eerie guitar solo and hypnotic synthesizer and piano combinations. As the song fades out, it becomes apparent that Death From Above 1979 have just made the best album of 2014 so far.

If there’s anything we’ve learnt from DFA1979 throughout their whole career, it’s not just that they make killer music, but also that their music has a long lasting influence on many artists around today. Work by the likes of DZ Deathrays and Royal Blood are littered with Granger and Keeler’s influence, which makes it all the more important to have a band like Death From Above 1979 around now, still making music. Let’s hope that The Physical World doesn’t become too much for the duo, and that we don’t have to wait another 10 years for album number 3.