These Brits we’re written off early in their career for being a Cramps/Joy Division novelty act. Their track “Sheena is a parasite” was crash course in art-house punk rock with cracked riffs colliding with carnival synthesisers. Sure, they weren’t wearing masks, but otherwise the band felt like it had been masterminded in a dressing room in Hot Topic. That impression was brief as 2009’s Primary Colors was widely considered an astonishing triumph in shoegaze music–combining the lush synths of New Order with terrifying guitar leads, and lead singer Faris Badwan’s hollow-as-a-corpse moan. For many critics the band peaked on 2011’s Skying-a work both ethereal and encompassing. It was assumed the band would breakthrough to the mainstream on their next effort and they did–in Britain. American critics attacked 2014’s Luminous for being complacent and a bit too dance-floor friendly. The Horrors didn’t need that shit–they’re highly educated blokes who don’t actually need rock n’ roll to survive. That fact has led to the charge from critics that the band has no skin in the game–like Radiohead before them they’ve been charged with being too far removed to invest themselves in their work. V will do nothing to change minds in that regard. The band have been tinkering with their sound machines, and from the outset of their new album appear set to deliver the magnum opus–something both accessible and forceful. They do just that but Badwan does not the convincing lead singer make. He remains the aloof spirit–haunting the tracks not directing them. Album opener “Hologram” is a stunning mix of house music and shoe gaze–it stomps and percolates and then explodes ad nauseum. There’s a slab of Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle propped up by heavily distorted beats and guitarist Joshua Hayward’s guitar sorcery. “Are we hologram? Are we vision?” Dawan asks with the perfect inflection right as the hook drops.
It’s hard not to imagine the band seeing themselves reanimated by science playing arena’s long after they’ve shucked off the mortal coil. “Press Enter to Exit” breaks out the dub and a bit of The Clash’s attitude “What does it tell you when you change into a stranger?/What words can never be denied? When does it start to turn straight into a shadow?/How has your life become a lie?” Badwan asks seeming more to question his own existence than anything else.
“Machine” chugs to life all drum machines and squealing guitars–it could be a modern NIN single or something off Depeche Mode’s Ultra. As the album unwinds Badwan begins to open up. The songs rely less on production gimmicks and more on brilliant songwriting. “Weighed Down,” “Gathering” and “World Below” are the kind of tracks that make great albums. Album closer, “Something to Remember me By” will likely pay off as a career-making single for the band. The track bounces with pop zeal and Badwan owns it–half Madonna, half David Gahan–he appears comfortable in his own voice, in his own skin, knowing that he isn’t saying anything new. Badwan may be what is preventing The Horrors from moving from “big band” to “biggest band in the world.” It’s something I enjoy about the band as Gawan appears too smart to buy his own hype, and too in love with his inspirations to let them go.
Death From Above
Outrage is Now
You might associate Death From Above 1979 with 2004’s sexy disco-punk freakout “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.” The Canadian duo’s sent noise-rock bass lines colliding perfectly into thumping grooves and Death Row Records-styled synth hooks. This was sexy, noisy bravado delivered at a time when sexy and noisy weren’t particularly welcome. Lead singer Sebastien Grainger’s lyrics dealt with sex and relationships in a way that both mocked sexism and dude-bros while flirting with that sort of toxic masculinity. It was dangerous territory in 2004–and let’s not forget DFA’s response when James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem had lawyers issue a cease-and-desist because the band shared a name with his record label. The rant posted to their website ended: “james murphy is a selfish piece of fuck that will burn in the flames of a specially dedicated rock and roll jihad. if i had the resources i would fly a plane into his skull.” The band added 1979 to the end of their name, fulfilling the minimum required of it to avoid a lawsuit.
Grainger and bassist Jesse Keeler eventually had a falling out over the direction of the band. They broke up in 2006 after completing a tour with Nine Inch Nails. Keeler was set to appear on Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris but that never came about, he formed electronic-punk group MSTRKRFT with DFA’s producer. Grainger pursued solo work. Then suddenly in 2011 the group announced their reunion. Fans were skeptical—the timing seemed right to cash in on the reunion circuit and festivals. Their comeback album The Physical World delivered far less noise than their first full-length. It had good songwriting but lacked the contentiousness, angry frills, sex and dangerousness of You’re a Woman. It felt like the band was claiming their space in the world of “Alternative Rock”—whatever that is nowadays.
Outrage is Now was a surprise. There wasn’t major hype—no information about which direction the band was headed. The first single “Never Swim Alone” delivered more of the old-school DFA groove but also felt to be reaching for radio play. The single defies the feel of the rest of the album which is epic and, thankfully, sexy and dangerous–albeit being infused with adult issues.
Grainger sings about being lost in a world where he refuses to take sides, left feeling detached from his wife and yearning for a time when he knew which way was which. Opener “Nomad” storms forward like Rush playing Metallica’s black album. “Freeze Me” is a clear choice for rock-radio with a piano riff and Keeler’s divebombs covering Grainger’s voice as he pleads for a human connection. “Are we outside the safe spaces of sex? Are we in space or just feeling weightless?”
“Caught Up” has a nasty swagger, hand-clap beats and a gonzo bass performance from Keeler. Grainger creeps up admitting he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be mad about and then dropping the ultimate bad hookup line: “I’m not caught up like all the other guys but I’m still caught up on something, You!”
Drums and bass take the group to amazing places–from spaced out-prog, to Buzzcockeqsque punk stompers and the fist-pumping thrill of “NVR 4EVA.” Grainger finds controversy and danger in not knowing what to think and daring to ask, “Do you know what you’re mad about?” Keeler finds it in the complete mastery of his bass, using it like an instrument of war. Sludgy Sabbathian riffs thunder over the album as consistently as Grainger’s voice.
It’s on album finale “Holy Books” where the band appears to come full circle. They explore new territory throughout the album, then drop the head-down, dance-metal stomp that brought them to the dance. Grainger sneers, “I don’t go for no holy books/ Those ancient rhymes ain’t got no hooks” It’s the band making good–yes they want to be more than sneering punks but in the end it appears they recognize that attitude, that soul is what allows them to make meaningful rock n roll. Give me Outage is Now with its dangerousness and thundering instrumentation over Queens of the Stone Age’s overhyped, poorly produced and sterile “Villains” any day of the week.
Monolithic, imperious, and mysterious Sweden’s Monolord captured the minds of the metal underground with 2014’s Empress Rising. The three-piece’s lethargic version of doom metal was striking in its simplicity and elegance. Perhaps the most important instrument in the band’s arsenal is the bass guitar wielded by Mika Hakki–firm, pulsing–a strict line not to be deviated from with ad libs or fills. Their music is so authoritarian and mystical that it can feel like a monument to some forbidden god. On Rust the Swedes go looking for a little humanity and go digging where metalheads tend to– in Motley Crew and Black Sabbath. A simple chord shift by Thomas Jager and a little cowbell from drummer Esben Willems makes “Where Death Meets to Sea” feel like something off of Crue’s Shout at the Devil. Its deceptive as the song still drips forth, slowly, like honey left on the table. “Dear Satan” finds lead singer Thomas Jager channeling Ozzy’s hamfisted religious metaphors–declaring “Dear Lucifer, I’m sad to say I must go!” The band introduces organ on “Rust” accentuating the band’s mystical feel but adding little to the composition. It’s halfway through instrumental track “Wormland” when things start to get interesting. Cellos break in acting as a guitar solo, they fade and give way to “Forgotten Lands” a truly magnificent piece of stoner rock that deftly plays with dynamics and calls back the best work of Sleep. Final track “Niceae” clocks in at over 15 minutes building on the skeletal structure of reverberating chords. Eventually waves of distortion consume the notes and Jager sings longingly his words lost under the fuzz. Finally the tide of noise pulls back and there is a solo, sad guitar line plucked like a sweet tune on a music box. It’s the power of the guitar, the knowledge the feeling that are are human fingers plucking it that finally reveals Monolord’s humanity. Was it worth the wait? If you’re a glutton for punishment, like me, you’ll be grinning like a dumb kid.