Constructing a worthy record is always difficult after being absent from the music community for a prolonged period of time. Whenever a fan base hears their old favorite band is reuniting, hopes and expectations shoot through the roof, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the band members to deliver a top-notch album. Death From Above 1979 had already set the bar quite high with their 2004 debut album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, so the 10-year gap between records could have easily been detrimental to their sound and persona. Instead, The Physical World gives off the impression that the punk duo never took a break to begin with.
Miraculously, Death From Above’s signature sound has hardly been altered at all. The crunchy bass tone still has just as much grit, and Sebastien Grainger’s voice sounds like it hasn’t aged a year. Furthermore, there is no shortage of the catchy bass riffs or soulful wails listeners have familiarized themselves with over the past decade. Rather, what has changed is the band’s songwriting approach. While You’re a Woman was bursting with chaotic writing, The Physical World is much more structured and, dare I say, radio-friendly at times. That’s not to say the disarray and charm of their debut has completely vanished – songs like “Government Trash” and “Gemini” still boast this style just as effectively as the debut did – but much of this style has been replaced with more melodic vocals and song structures that new listeners would find more accessible.
The album’s first single, “Trainwreck 1979”, is arguably the catchiest and most well-written track, which is not something I would typical say of a single. This song best encapsulates the duo’s progression since 2004 by starting off with an excellent tension build, then leading into one of the grooviest riffs in the band’s discography. A close second for that accolade is the intro to the disco-punk-esque “Virgins”, which also features the biggest chorus on the record. Still, resilient fans of the band’s debut will find plenty more of the “Helter-Skelter” sound in songs like “Right On, Frankenstein!” – a song equally worthy of being a single.
Despite generally sticking to the tried and true formula, Death From Above dabbles around a bit in cross-genre experimentation a few times on the record. “White is Red” is a very mellow, sappy, and soft-rock type of track. The aggression disappears for nearly five minutes, and while it’s nice to have a change of pace, the song comes off a little awkward and kills the momentum that had been building up until that point. In itself, it’s not a bad song – just not very fitting for this particular band. The album then goes out not with a bang, but with an eerie post-rock instrumental that also feels slightly out of place, though an interesting direction nonetheless.
Put simply, The Physical World is a far better product than what most bands could put out after taking a decade-long break. The vigor and vibes of 2004 linger intently within all 11 tracks, and every one has something good to offer – whether it’s an old school riff or a post-punk melody, Death From Above 1979 delivers with power and prowess. Maybe they’ll stick around for another 10 years if we’re lucky.