Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World

Toronto dance-punk duo return from the dead with storming second album

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Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler must look at Royal Blood atop the UK album chart and wonder what exactly has happened in the decade since they released their debut album You're a Woman, I'm A Machine.

Back in 2004, the Toronto dance-punk duo were seen as something of a novelty act, a little too hip, a little too knowing and a little too flippant to be considered a ‘proper’ rock band for ‘proper’ rock fans. And now fickle old Britain is wholeheartedly embracing a band drawing from similar source materials. One suspects the Canadians might just get a little tired hearing about the Brighton duo as the year wears on.

If anything though, Royal Blood’s success should lead to more rock fans approaching DFA 1979 with open minds second time around. This can only be a good thing, for The Physical World is far too good a comeback to languish in the ‘Cult Appeal’ files.

Given that Grainger and Keeler originally broke up their band in 2006 citing creative differences over the musical direction each wished to pursue, it’s perhaps surprising that The Physical World deviates little from the sound of their debut: “Nothing’s new,” Grainger sings on the frantic Right On, Frankenstein!It’s the same old song, just a different tune.” But in growing up the duo have lost none of the playfulness, power or poise that made You’re a Woman, I’m A Machine such a treat. There’s a thrilling energy and drive to their new collection, from the superb Sabbath-esque riff underpinning Always On to the disco-garage thump of Government Trash, and it makes for an absorbing 35 minutes.

For newcomers, the nagging bluesy riff of Virgins – with its memorable refrain “Where have all the virgins gone?” - will call to mind Royal Blood’s DNA, but The Physical World is a more diverse, colourful collection. Gemini is a sweet noise-pop tune about a girl who “cries on her birthday” and “still believes in Heaven”, with “raspberry lips” that have “never been kissed.” Right On, Frankenstein! echoes The Cramps and the Ramones with its kitschy B-movie vibes (“I don’t want to die, but I want to be buried, meet me at the gates of the cemetary”) while Crystal Ball could be a more muscular, pilled-up Killers. Best of all is the bitter sweet White Is Red, a slow-burning tale of ill-fated teenage lovers. “Frankie was a heartbreaker, I didn’t know it at the start,” Grainger sings. “She was only 16 when she went and broke my heart.” The duo have previously referenced the song as “Springsteen meets Sonic Youth”, and that lofty comparison holds up rather well, displaying an emotional core to the band rarely seen last time out.

It all ends in a curiously downbeat fashion, with the claustrophobic title track, and its rather dark lyrical sentiment “I can’t sell you if no-one buys”. If that’s a reference to the duo’s experience of the music industry on their first time at the rodeo one might well wonder why they’re putting themselves through the ringer once more. Whatever, this exhilarating comeback exhibits little sign of cynicism or jaded sensibilities, emerging as one of 2014’s most animated and exuberant returns. Welcome back gentlemen.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.