You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine is fast approaching its thirteenth birthday. Released in October 2004, it was Death From Above 1979’s first, and for a long time only full length release. The duo of Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler had made a name for themselves as snotty noise brats with an attitude, reflected in their statement when their label requested that they didn’t use the name of the then all-conquering dance punk imprint Death From Above. The statement began with “FUCK DFA RECORDS FUCK JAMES MURPHY WE DECLARE JIHAD ON THEM HOLY WAR ENDING IN THIER [sic] DEATH AND DISMEMBERMENT…” and didn’t improve in tone from there. Incidentally, their ire was misplaced, as it was their label to blame and Murphy knew nothing about the potential legal action.
The album itself was a grinding exploration of how vocals, bass and drums (and the occasional synth line) could interact in the sleaziest way possible. With many of the songs coming in at just over two minutes it was thrilling in its brevity and abrasiveness, with only closing song ‘Sexy Results’ toning down the sneer factor. In less than two years the band broke up, with Keeler going on to form MSTRKRFT and Grainger going solo. Neither man’s projects outside DFA1979 set the world on fire and so when they reunited with 2014’s The Physical World it was met with a yawn, being little more than an undercooked throwback to the songs and style that had worked so well for them 10 years previously. Now in 2017 Death From Above drop the 1979 and return with Outrage Is Now, an album title that certainly doesn’t promise much.
Firstly, the low points. The title track is quite comfortably the worst song the band has ever recorded. The first line is “Outrage/Outrage/I’m out of rage” and lyrically it does not get much better for there. One doesn’t normally listen to a DFA song for its wit but these lyrics are insultingly lazy. The music itself isn’t so bad, with a bass pulse being interrupted by a descending riff in the chorus. ‘Never Swim Alone’ follows with more lyrical clunkers but is saved by its interestingly textured bass riff, all octaves and angles.
Other tracks are let down by their musical backing. Opener ‘Nomad’ feels like a retread of ideas that were done to death on the first album and is about a minute too long. ‘Freeze Me’ is introduced by a piano line that wouldn’t be out of place in a 90s house tune but the effect, along with the rest of the track, hearkens back to nu-rave, an unflattering comparison if nothing else. ‘Caught Up’ comes afterwards and sounds like a Queens Of The Stone Age B-side, all handclaps and slowed down tempos.
The positives on this album are contained almost entirely in its back half. ‘Moonlight’ consists mostly of a tremolo picked noted on bass while Grainger’s vocals twist sinuously above it. The chorus is great too, pounding drums holding the track down while the vocal melody takes off, Grainger straining to be heard. ‘All I C Is U & Me’ has an almost power-pop bass progression and actually holds together as a song, rather than a collection of parts like those in the album’s first half. ‘Holy Books’ is an album highlight, combining a hard charging riff with a contemplative bridge section, with piano and wordless vocals creating a solitary moment of space on the LP.
Outrage Is Now is a strange album. It’s the work of two instrumentalists who’ve found their style and are now doggedly sticking to it. It’s an album that is rife with lyrical catastrophes and bog standard backing tracks. Once it does pick up in its second half it’s almost an enjoyable listen and is definitely, at least, an improvement on The Physical World. Death From Above will never recapture the spark that they had on You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine but they’re still capable of operating as a solid rock outfit one supposes, albeit one firing on half of their cylinders for the entire length of an album. Darren Keane