Good news everyone, they're still apparently elephants.

Good news everyone, they’re still apparently elephants.

So remember how I mentioned this week’s article might be about playing around on your phone in public? Yeah, that’s not going to be happening. Instead I’m going to talk about Death From Above 1979 for a few reasons. The first is that their new album “The Physical World” came out today; their first full length studio album in a month shy of a decade.  The second is that I will be going to see them this Friday at the MRCY Block Party (along with Metric, Neutral Milk Hotel and some others). So a new album and a show all in the same week means that this article gets to exist today. BEHOLD. I’m going to give you fair warning, the actual review portion of this article is pretty far into it, if you want to skip ahead, just look for the bold text that says “Was it worth the wait?”.  I won’t even be mad.

Something strange happened to DFA 1979 when they broke up, it took a little while, but by breaking up right as they were on the rise they left their fan base wanting more and somehow made them more popular. Not only that, but people were discovering the band only to find out they already didn’t exist anymore. Officially they broke up in August 2006, but that had been after several months of not doing anything or playing any shows, so the “real” break up date would probably be a few months earlier.  Anyhow, details of the breakup aside, the band managed to ascend even further than when they were actually together. Instead of being just a cool band from Toronto who make energetic noise-pop, they were now this legendary band you never got to see live even though everyone says their shows were amazing and now your life is incomplete.

I got to see them in 2004 I think during Pop Montreal and in the haze of a decade’s worth of shows and substance abuse I recall having an amazing time. I also feel like I saw them another time before the breakup but I can’t be sure. No matter.  They were gone, I felt like I didn’t get to see them enough, a lot of people never got to see them. The legend grew.

Fast forward to 2011 when they were suddenly playing a handful of shows including an appearance at Osheaga. At this point there was no real indication that they were actually going to be getting back together and making new music, so we only had to take this as a “reunion”. Whatever, it was another chance to see them again so I was there. They killed it and were a highlight of the whole festival. I got to rock out to Sebastien Granger and Jesse Keeler one more time and that would be that, or so I thought.

A few months later I found out that it wasn’t just a reunion:  they were getting back together. They were recording new songs. In fact, they were going on a mini-tour to some small venues to workshop some of those new songs (and still play some of the originals). I was thrilled. So thrilled that when the Montreal date sold out before I could get tickets I instead booked a road trip to Quebec City to go see them in a place about the size of my parents’ basement. The new songs? They were definitely in rough versions, but I liked what I heard.  Still though, I was holding my breath. Maybe Keeler and Granger’s creative differences would rear their heads in a bad way and those songs would never see the light of day.

Now it’s today, September 9, 2014 and for the first time in nearly a decade we have a new full length studio album from Death From Above 1979 called “The Physical World” in our hands. Or more likely, on our computers.  Fun fact to help you figure out how long ago 2004 was: in 2004 there had been about 100 million total downloads from iTunes and in 2013 they surpassed 25 billion downloads. Jesus.

Even stranger is the fact that the first single off the album “Trainwreck 1979” is in pretty heavy rotation on local rock station CHOM. DFA on CHOM? Somehow, by breaking up for 5 years, not really touring for 8 and not releasing an album in nearly 10, the band is now bigger than they ever were. It sort of goes against everything mom tried to teach me about hard work. Somehow, I feel like if we stop updating this website for the next ten years, we won’t return to a whole lot of fanfare.

So it begs the question: Was it worth the wait?

 “The Physical World” was on Google Play Music this morning, which delighted me. As I type this sentence I have listened to it about 3 times start to finish already. Obviously, this means it doesn’t expressly suck, or I would’ve just stopped listening and giving it a chance, but is it good?

Even before the album came out I knew that DFA was in a bit of a lose/lose situation. Inexplicably they’ve been building momentum by doing nothing and now it is pretty unlikely that they’ll be able to live up to whatever expectations you have for them. If they didn’t change their sound they’d be slammed for giving us “more of the same” and if they changed their sound they’d be slammed for “not sticking with what made them great.” Indeed, their work was cut out for them and the odds of anyone being fully satisfied with this record were (and ultimately still are) remarkably slim.

The first time I listened through it I was actually a little disappointed. I knew that it wasn’t going to be what I was expecting, since my expectations were completely inflated. I tried to mitigate this as much as possible and listen with fresh ears, but wasn’t completely able to. The first thing I noticed was Sebastien was screaming a lot less. A little more melody in his voice a little more often than I remember.  Keeler was also shredding less, and grooving more (if that makes sense). Don’t get me wrong, these tracks are still heavy, they’re just much less raw.  Once I stopped expecting it to be as heavy as it once was, I got pretty into it. It definitely grew on me with each listen. The more I listened to it, the more I stopped expecting it to be exactly like their older stuff and the more I enjoyed it.

So what happened? Honestly, I think it’s just Death From Above 1979 getting a little older. Being in your mid-30s is very different from being in your mid-20s. You’ve got different priorities and maybe you don’t have quite as much energy as you used to. Maybe you’re not quite as angry at the world as you were when every single heartbreak was earth shattering. So yeah, the boys mellowed out (a little). A little less feedback, a little less screaming, but still very much Death From Above 1979.

So no, this isn’t the best album of all time. It’s still great though and after 3 or 4 listens I think it warrants a place in my heavy rotation list for a little while. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing them live this Friday night. Are they really back for good this time? I guess we’ll just wait and see.

For fun, here are the quick notes from my first listen through of the album:

  • Cheap Talk – Starts high energy, a little synthy. Granger’s voice is more melodic. Good opening track.
  • Right On, Frankenstein – Another great track
  • Virgins – Fun
  • Always On – Meh
  • Crystal Ball – I like this.
  • White is Red – A fucking ballad? Sadly skippable.
  • Trainwreck 1979 – Definitely the radio song for a reason, pretty accessible, still great.
  • Nothin’ Left – Much heavier, sounds the most like “old” DFA.
  • Government Trash – Same here, it’s like their closing strong on purpose.
  • Gemini – One of my favorite songs on the record
  • The Physical World – Title track, bigger more epic sound than usual. Great closer.

The Perspicacious Geek will one day have banner art and stuff, and that article about cell phones is still a thing that exists. See you next week.

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