Sunday, July 19, 2009

Albums I enjoy #35

35. Heads Up by Death from Above 1979

There’s a lot I could say about this album, and yet, I feel nearly everything that could be said can be gathered by the listener after hearing it once. It’s only a little over 13 minutes in length, every song barely scrapes a few minutes and the lyrics are so distraught and emotional that they’re nearly incoherent, but the impression one gets from it is immediate, undeniable and probably accurate. It’s a sentiment that is confirmed again by the album itself: bold, all-capitals font shouts out their lyrics, complete with spelling mistakes, in a constant stream, with text cluttering all of the bright orange background, with the notable exception of the cover. It all adds up to one thought that cannot be escaped: these amateurs think they’re better than everyone else! Here’s the cool part: they are.

If this album could be described as one thing, it is conflict. All the songs tell stories of people at odds with the community they are part of, and the paradox that arises when said community is also the very thing sustaining them. There’s a certain painful irony in a song that starts with the line, “My hate was born in the club, that’s why I’m leaving.”, continues to mock the patrons of said club, and then finishes with a chant so anthem-like that it’s hard not to picture it being shouted by hundreds of the drunk, jumping kids that conceived his hatred in the first place. Not to be outdone by their subject material, both halves of the group seem to be both at each other’s throats and completely in synch simultaneously. This seems to be before the band fully understood what sort of music they wanted to make, and the way one song seems to pull in two different directions towards two different styles and ideals all in the space of two and a half minutes creates an amazingly conflicted sound that can never be mimicked with actual co-operation.


That’s not deriding the quality of the music, however. For all their uncertainty, there was no lack of talent or the confidence to back it up, and for all their conflicting views on the musical process, they managed to scrape together some really solid songs. Bassist Jesse Keeler never seems to have difficulty stringing together catchy riffs with brutal solos, while Sebastian Granger’s drum work was as precise as it was relentless. At certain points where both flow into each other so seamlessly and the vocals harmonize, they sound like brothers who would never consider fighting as they did in coming years, and the music releases more energy than one with twice the members and twenty times the budget. This is a garage rock supernova. This is the result of anti-matter and matter intertwined. This is death from above.

There is, of course, a certain amount of rebellious intent to the album. Although they might adopt a holier-than-thou attitude to sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, they obviously do not always practice what they preach. This is a good thing, though, because the music is all the more real, coming from people who have lived the lifestyle, who have made bad choices and who have failed at things that mattered to them. And, on an album where they renounce the scene that nurtured and loved them, their almost terrorist-like dissociation and retaliation cries out with desperation that suggests more than a little hesitation on the move. This duality of casting judgment on one note and relishing in the excess on the next is not meant to be ironic, nor does it represent a deeper genius that full well understands the subtle hypocrisies that riddle their outlook. It merely makes the music all the more appreciable, relatable and real to the listener.


But what does it matter if it’s real? The club scene depicted and disposed of is one that I have never experienced and will probably never venture into. Their internal conflicts and outward irate outlook is one I will likely never share. This separation in experience only reinforces how amazing the music is, though, because despite all the differences, I cannot help be caught up in all the drama and glory. Like I said, the album is just 13 minutes long, but that length is hardly fair. The songs are so exciting and addictive, repeated listens are almost impossible to avoid. For two people to meet up under such mysterious circumstances in a god-awful city like London, Ontario (I’m allowed to say this; I’m from there too) and release something like this despite never once wanting to make the same thing is almost miraculous. And if it was all they ever did, it would have been yet another tragedy in the world of underappreciated talent. But they stuck together, compromised on their sound, tackled larger subjects and made even better music than this (although the sound would never be as fresh or wonderfully at odds with itself), and that is a real miracle.

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