The noisiest boys in dance-punk return to the dancefloor on a groovy fourth record A devastating opening squall of feedback? Check. Strange semi-song outros to bridge each track? Check. Chuck in a slow number to show off your sensitive side and end things on a proggy, drawn out closer and, baby, you’ve got a Death From Above 1979 album cooking.
It should come as no surprise that at this point, 20 years and 4 LPs deep into their career, DFA 1979 know how to put a record together. Since their 2011 reformation the duo have been honing their craft, harnessing the wildness of their early years and taking it in a steadier, more mature direction. Hell, both ‘The Physical World’ and ‘Outrage! Is No’ are arguably superior works to their beloved debut record.
Now, 2005’s ‘You’re A Woman I’m A Machine’ hasn’t aged a day, but the electroclash/dance-punk scene it helped pioneer is starting to. Consequentially the band’s decision to reintroduce some of the more electronic influences of their earlier material (the Justice-esque backwards pianos on ‘Totally Wiped Out’, the Klaxons-y falsetto backing vocals on ‘Love Letter’, the The Knife-like ghostly synths halfway through ‘No War’) makes ‘Is 4 Lovers’ come off as oddly retro in its attempts to sound futuristic. ‘New DFA 1979 sounds like old DFA 1979’ isn’t exactly a hot take, but it could mean that this is a great re-entry point for people who found their recent material a little too Black Sabbath-y for their tastes.
Broadly this album is split into two halves: the banger-fuelled side one and the more experimental side two. The opening run of ‘Modern Guy’, ‘One + One’ and ‘Free Animal’ is just a barrage of crunchy tones from bassist Jesse F. Keeler, as if he’s making sure to get his riff quota in before dropping his bass for most of the latter half of the record. Sebastian Grainger’s drums retain the punchy mix the band mastered on their last record but feel more digitalised and removed. Though this suits the more dancefloor-friendly vibe they’re going for this time around, there is a trade-off in intensity. Where ‘Outrage! Is Now’ absolutely tore out of the speakers, ‘Is 4 Lovers’ throws shapes and grinds against the furniture.
Lyrically Grainger has largely eschewed his recent approach of writing about wider society and current affairs (though he still finds time to complain about social media on ‘Totally Wiped Out’, another convention of every Death From Above album I could have listed off at the beginning) in favour of the more personal approach he took on ‘You’re A Woman’ and ‘Heads Up!’. ‘One + One’ must be the grooviest song about the joys of starting a family ever written. ‘Love Letter’ is a beautiful, guileless tribute to romance that feels a million miles away from the “I don’t need you, I want you” sentiment of their first record.
There is a smattering of Grainger’s trademark vocal savagery on ‘Free Animal’ and ‘Mean Streets’, the latter of which really jolts you out of your seat after a run of calmer tracks, but these tend to feel more like he is playing a character than during the album’s more tender moments. Keeler’s basswork still sounds utterly unlike anything else on the planet, even on tracks where his attention seems to wander (such as the relatively staid closer ‘No War’).
It's crazy to think now that Death From Above 1979 could have been a one record and done band, had they stayed split after their debut. Instead we live in a universe where they are gradually amassing one of the most consistent discographies in the business. ‘Is 4 Lovers’ is both a worthy addition to the collection and a reminder of what the band has gained over the years since they were just two kids from Toronto blowing everyone’s minds by not hiring a guitarist.
Death From Above, everyone, a band the world is very lucky to have.
Words: Josh Gray
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