Death From Above 1979 – ‘Is 4 Lovers’

By Fiachra Johnston

Death From Above (sometimes with a 1979, and sometimes not), despite their hiatus in between records, are entering their third decade of creating heavy hitting style of dance-punk, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Though the topics may change as drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and bassist/synth jockey Jesse F. Keeler find themselves navigating the realm of settled life, the band’s style has never shied away from the DIY-style garage feel – for better or worse. But while ‘Outrage is Now’ saw the band finding their footing as it moved away from that “flying by the seat of their pants” era into a more mature, focused space, ‘Is 4 Lovers’ takes all that growth and returns to 2004 once more to see it applied to that dance-punk sound that made the pair great, to immense success.

Where ‘Outrage is Now’ leaned away from some of the more punk elements of old, ‘Is 4 Lovers’ leans back towards them with wild lust. DFA never lost their edge moving to a more traditional rock sound, but seeing ‘Mean Streets’ going all in on the manic energy will see you shocked back into the mid ’00s. That’s not to say that the pair haven’t abandoned those wild hard rock influences altogether. ‘Free Animal’ celebrates them proudly as Keeler’s iconic screeching bassline leads one of the album’s more quirky tracks (British rock duos take note here: more songs with backing cowbell percussion please). ‘NYC Power Elite’ parts 1 & 2  continue on with some rather tongue-in-cheek lyricism (“I haven’t carried cash since 9/11… I haven’t eaten cake since last election”) and solidify this notion that the duo have learnt a lot of lessons from their 2017 record.

Yet at the same time it’s deeply refreshing to see Keeler and Grainger explore the ‘dance’ side of dance-punk a bit more than OiN did. As a rather contrasting pair of musicians (Keeler making a name as part of the electronic outfit MSTRKRFT and Grainger exploring more alt avenues with his solo projects), seeing the musical dichotomy and watching the two play off each other’s strengths to form something exotcially unique is always a delight, and here the electronica shines like gold. ‘Glass Houses’ is perhaps the best example here, led by a truly f-u-n-k-y, almost chiptune-era keyboard riff. It’s no less intense than the punk-heavy tracks of the record, indeed, the amount of substance these additional elements give this album lead to a much more dynamic heaviness. They even present DFA with something of a stylistic advantage on the softer side of things, such as ‘Love Letter’, with its Cold War Kids piano line playing off the neon-soaked synths in a rare moment of rest for the band. 

Production wise, there’s a lot to get excited over. There are still some of those jarring transitions lingering from previous outings that give the album a more uneven pace than expected, and some of that precious momentum is lost just before its grand cacophonic closing track ‘No War’, but the pair’s manic energy is anything but poorly mixed. One of the curses that inevitably plagues every rock duo is the need to cover a sparse soundscape by soaking the music in a layer of distortion.  Fortunately, the bass and keys on ‘Is 4 Lovers’ are lively and robust enough to shine through of their own accord, distortion only ever serving to complement the duo’s sharp instrumentals, never to blanket them. There’s very little fat to be trimmed here, but everything feels very loose and open, always keeping the record from ever feeling empty. 

DFA’s discography is perhaps their most telling sign of clear growth throughout a decade and half of noise. The exuberantly youthful sound of ‘You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine’. The attempt at reclaiming that same sound 10 years on with ‘The Physical World’. A turning point in maturity in ‘Outrage Is Now’. Every part of DFA’s history culminates here, in a flurry of funk and punk, and while Keeler and Grainger keeping a 15-year flurry of energy alive through ever-evolving electronic hard rock won’t surprise those who have followed the band closely through their comeback years, it’s nevertheless a joy to be reminded that outrage isn’t dead, it just learned how to dance.

FIACHRA JOHNSTON

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