Death From Above 1979 have always been outliers, out of place but always on time. The Canadian duo of bassist Jesse F. Keeler and drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger stood out like a sore and bloodied thumb when they arrived with the brutal debut of 2004’s ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’. The Strokes’ garage rock revolution had passed and ‘00s indie was about to enter its glam and coiffured phase courtesy of debuts from The Killers and Franz Ferdinand, and there were some formidable modern rock two-pieces around in the form of The White Stripes, The Kills and The Black Keys.
Death From Above were always much more rough-and-ready than those bands. They couldn’t give a shit about the blues and had no time for nostalgia. Theirs is a brand of sleazy and primal dance-punk that demands you to get down – right now.
They took their feral live show on the road for two years before they split acrimoniously due to creative differences and thoroughly not liking each other any more. They didn’t speak for five years, but their debut inspired a wave of noise-rockers and nu-ravers in its wake. Their cult status was cemented, before manifesting itself in the clamouring demand for their 2011 reunion shows – including a riotous South By South West festival show that saw fans clamouring to get into a tiny gig. New music finally came with 2014’s visceral comeback ‘The Physical World’ and then 2017’s assured ‘Outrage! Is Now’ – DFA were still bringing the party, but with something new to prove each time.
They’ve now grown up a little, but are no less fun. Beyond the wisdom of the motorik space-rock opener ‘Modern Guy’ (“Progress, not a promise / Devils laugh if you go too fast”), ‘One+One’ fulfils its billing as the “karmic sequel” to early single ‘Romantic Rights’. While that earlier song was all about lust (“I don’t need you – I want you”), DFA now want to tell you a thing or two about love: “I need you, I can’t control it… Love is action”). The piano-led cyborg-Lennon ballad of ‘Love Letter’ wanders further into tender territory as Grainger pines, “You’re the one that I miss… So take this with a kiss”.
While ‘Free Animal’ is a more full-bodied take on the textbook DFA 1979 sound, there’s a more of an adventurous flair here to match their playful skewering of life and society. Take the techno squelch of ‘Glass Homes’, or the psychedelic synth malfunction ‘No War’ – the latter reflecting a topsy-turvy time where “the whole world is hard to believe if you speak in words that you don’t understand”.
The brutal quiet-LOUD assault of ‘Mean Streets’ pokes fun at masculinity and ego, while the acid punk ‘Totally Wiped Out’ sends up all those who lose their days to internet and porn addiction. The centre-piece of the album, however, is ‘NYC Power Elite’, a gnarly desert-rock send up of rich hipsters with first-world problems, “helicopter brunches” and pathetic preoccupations: “I haven’t eaten cake since the last election.”
Death From Above still pack a punch, but the bruise is a lot more colourful this time. ‘Is 4 Lovers’ is surely the band’s best work since their debut. And while they may never feel that vital again, they make right now feel like one helluva rush.
Release date: March 26
Record label: Universal