Death From Above (née 1979) must have had a hell of a tough time making 2014's 'The Physical World'. Following up their universally acclaimed debut a full decade later, the Canadian duo had to produce something that could both recapture the manic energy of their early days and make a newly fresh impact on a musical landscape that had altered drastically since their 2006 breakup. Though there were always going to be diehards who rejected its existence on principle, the record was far more successful in fulfilling the reformed band’s ambitions than it had any right to be, with cuts like ‘Crystal Ball’ and ‘White Is Red’ displaying a knack for ambitious songwriting that had still been in its infancy back on ‘You’re A Woman I’m A Machine’.
But, despite its overall progression, 'The Physical World' was hampered by the band’s occasional tendency to look back over their shoulders. There are no such self-doubts on ‘Outrage! Is Now’ (even if its title’s exclamation mark might hark back to their original ‘Heads Up!’ EP). Content with the fact that they are no longer the 20-year-olds that thrashed 'Turn It Out' and 'Pull Out' out, 2017’s DFA elect to sacrifice speed for muscle gain.
This self-assured approach only misfires once (on the pedestrian ‘NVR 4EVR’), and when the foot-flapping bounce of ‘All I C Is U & Me’ or the tsunami barrage of 'Never Swim Alone' hits the impact is breathtaking. It's as if the last record was the sound of Jesse F Keeler and Sebastian Grainger reminding themselves what they can do together, whereas ‘Outrage!…’ finds them actually enjoying the process of writing and experimenting with the potent formula they concocted back at the start of the millennium.
As ever, the record is powered by the combustion engine that has driven DFA's monstrous sound from the start (and also caused their early career crash): the collision of its members’ separate musical planets.
Grainger is a performer with pop on his tongue and punk in his limbs, his fierce drumming setting the speed and shape of each song while his surprisingly malleable voice searches out chorus hooks that stick in your head long after they fade away. Keeler, meanwhile, fills the void at the centre of his bandmate's uniquely literal version of pop-punk, channelling the mutant dancefloor attack he honed with MSTRKRFT through his signature, earthshaking bass tones to complete the DFA package.
With this foundation of sound rooted firmly back in place, the band are now free to start breaking the firm rules they have always worked within to surpass, rather than just equal, the quality of their early releases. They’ve even allowed themselves a bonafide solo apiece (Keeler on the title track, Grainger on ‘Statues’). The duo are expertly abetted by producer Eric Valentine, whose mixing of Grainger’s drums on this album is, I kid you not, even more groundbreaking than his seminal treatment of Dave Grohl’s legendary skin-thwacking on 2003’s ‘Songs For The Deaf’. The fact that they are releasing ‘Outrage!’ hot on the heels of a relatively stale Queens Of The Stone Age record only enhances DFA’s status as the world’s premier purveyors of hard rock that moves the hips.
Speaking of the competition, I don’t think anyone missed the fact that Keeler and Grainger are no longer the only world-conquering drums and bass duo in the business (and no I’m not referring to DZ Deathrays).
Obviously irked by the constant comparisons on their last press tour, for revenge they elect to mercilessly teabag Royal Blood on ‘Caught Up’. The two bands have never particularly sounded like one another, so DFA’s decision on this track to adopt it before speeding it up and stretching it out until it’s unrecognisable is fairly blatant. “We could do what they do,” they seem to be saying, “but no-one can do what we fucking do.” Just keep your eyes peeled Josh Homme; they’ll be coming for your crown next.
Words: Josh Gray
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