Legendary Canadian dance punk duo Death From Above 1979 returns from a decade-long hiatus with The Physical World, the long-awaited follow-up to its 2004 debut LP You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.
After promoting the LP with a highly energetic performance of cymbal-crashing single “Trainwreck 1979” on Letterman, drummer/singer Sebastien Grainger and bassist/keyboardist Jesse Keeler reveal The Physical World to the band’s ever-patient fan-base. Fueled by the same heavy, jumpy mechanics that drove DFA’s debut, The Physical World arrives with a refined accessibility, building on DFA’s signature dance punk by restating it, adding pop melodies, and experimenting with beeping electronic sounds. These punkenstein concoctions succeed in updating DFA’s sound and diversifying its already-unique sonic catalogue.
At the time of DFA’s debut, many were puzzled by the band’s combination of chaotically-paced dance punk and modern, mechanical noises, but many more were invigorated by it, resulting in a cult following. Sadly, a “secret UFC-style battle of egos” tore the band apart on its first tour as Death From Above 1979. While Grainger and Keeler worked on separate projects, DFA fans patiently waited for a second LP. In 2010, DFA announced a reunion and toured extensively throughout 2011. It took the duo three more years to write and produce its sophomore LP, and The Physical World doesn’t disappoint.
Right from the buzzing, robotic feel of its opening guitar riff, album opener “Cheap Talk” brings back the headbangers and earsplitting drum fills that propel DFA’s trademark haste. While it’s a flashy opener and successfully danceable number, “Cheap Talk” exhibits no qualities unique to itself. In fact, DFA leans on its tried-and-true style a bit too much on The Physical World, allowing a handful of tracks to become forgettable (“Always On,” “Crystal Ball”).
DFA’s use of its signature sound may be a tad overdone, but this Achille’s heel was used for a reason.
For a decade now, DFA fans have been clamoring for a follow-up LP to cult favorite You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, and a complete departure from that sound would certainly come as a shock to those fans. Still, a carbon copy of DFA’s debut would also disappoint. The duo remedies this musical dilemma with a poppy, melodic rendition of its classic sound, undoubtedly polished by producer Dave Sardy (Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem), who has displayed a knack for presenting glittering pictures of dirty objects.
Though much of DFA’s debut might be described as catchy by punk fans, none would consider it a “poppy” record. However, on The Physical World, DFA begins to blur the line between the violent, descending lead guitar licks of dance punk and the sugary, hook-centric choruses of pop punk. The most colorful line blur emerges in the handclap-peppered chorus of “White Is Red,” which is notable for its strumminess and pop sensibilities.
The pinnacle of DFA’s newfound pop tricks appears in Grainger’s melodically sung choruses.
In stark contrast to the sharp shouts of You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine, The Physical World’s choruses are crooned with striking pitch precision.
Grainger gives his most compelling performance on “Right On, Frankenstein!” a standout track for its manic energy. After an ear-worm chorus of “I don’t wanna die but I wanna be buried/Meet me at the gates of the cemetery/I’ll wait here ’til I’m ready,” DFA exposes a bass-heavy riff that dictates a song-closing jam, and is sure to please fans hoping for a glimpse of the DFA from the first record.
Of course, this DFA project would be incomplete without a sufficient helping of sonic experimentation. Grainger and Keeler squeeze this auditory detour into the end of The Physical World, which feels surprisingly apt.
DFA’s outlandish conclusion begins with “Gemini,” a grimy love song with a concise 2:25 runtime and a chaotic mold of driving dance punk, cartoony sound effects, and bubblegum lyrics, such as “24/7/Still believes in heaven/Raspberry lips/Never been kissed.” “Gemini” may be The Physical World’s most colorful tune, but isn’t necessarily its most experimental.
The most experimental song on The Physical World arrives in the form of its album-closing title track, which enters with a glitchy, electronic guitar solo which sounds nabbed from Daft Punk’s recycle bin. The experimentation continues throughout the track as DFA weaves its bleeping guitar into Grainger’s desperately cried verse, and concludes the song and album with a hazy piano outro, forcibly reminding listeners to stay on their toes with Death From Above 1979.
While experimentation may perplex some listeners, DFA’s sophomore LP reaches all its goals, both in fan-satisfying and sonic exploration. A boldly unconventional album, The Physical World‘s combination of DFA’s innate dance punk impulses and newfound pop sensibilities is sure to please old fans and new discoverers alike.
Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World tracklist:
- “Cheap Talk”
- “Right On, Frankenstein!”
- “Always On”
- “Crystal Ball”
- “White Is Red”
- “Trainwreck 1979”
- “Nothin’ Left”
- “Government Trash”
- “The Physical World”