“I really didn’t think I could be surprised by music anymore.”
Although Dead Confederate can’t necessarily be compared to the Reykjavik Symphony, and the real world isn’t exactly The West Wing, (though with `real life Josh Lyman’ Rahm Emanuel in the Chief of Staff role, we’re probably closer than we think), the above quote from the fictional President Jed Bartlet was sent resonating through my head upon hearing Wrecking Ball. I’ve been writing music reviews for more than five years, and I’ve been a music snob for much longer. And yes, I was recently at a point in my life where I felt like I couldn’t be surprised by music anymore. This feeling is most usually brought on by the writing of an interminable string of reviews for mediocre bands and albums. I am eventually always proven wrong by a band or artist that comes at me sideways. It happened with Sufjan Stevens, Shearwater and Sigur Rós, and maybe a few other bands that didn’t start with an `S.’ But most recently it happened with Dead Confederate.
Hailing from Augusta, Ga., later moving to Athens and recording in Austin, (and now the `A’s’ are wild), Dead Confederate are proving with their debut full-length album, Wrecking Ball, that their new brand of music is everything that rock and roll should be and more. Sludgy, epic, abrasive, sprawling, delicate, psychedelic: these are all words that wouldn’t be out of place in describing the intense framework of songs on Wrecking Ball.
The band’s tone vacillates between hoarsely screaming paranoia to long and luxuriant meandering landscapes, sometimes within the same song. And while some may find this to be inconsistent, it is anything but. The album is perfectly balanced, from the Bleach-era Cobain shrieks of opener “Heavy Petting” and the later track, “Start Me Laughing,” to the Neil Young-esque “All the Angels” and the incredibly expansive “Flesh Colored Canvas,” a track that combines the above with some Pink Floyd psychedelia and traditional Southern rock to create a twelve minute masterpiece.
With an album whose title recalls Emmylou Harris or a song by the aforementioned Neil Young, and a widely played track (“The Rat”) whose title reminds us of the Walkmen, we soon realize upon listening that Dead Confederate fall somewhere in between. They are a band that excels at being caught in the middle, at never finding `safe’ ground. There’s the Atlanta of today, churning out heavy metal power chords and hard charging riffs like never before. There’s the Augusta of their childhood, and then there’s the Athens of the past, who had borne R.E.M., the B-52’s, Pylon, the Drive-By Truckers and Neutral Milk Hotel. Dead Confederate are thriving in the areas between. It’s not grunge, but it’s also not traditional Southern rock. It almost exists in some kind of “Twilight Zone,” as Rod Serling says, “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” This sums up the music of Dead Confederate more than I ever could. And like Serling’s teleplays, it is incredibly haunting. But just like we crave to be scared sometimes by television or movies, and though it happens rarely these days, I am happy to be surprised by music again.