Rock music always sounds a bit strange when you eliminate a staple instrument from the typical lineup. The bass-less sound has only recently become accepted by the mainstream, with the guitar-and-drums-only sound of The White Stripes, even though Sleater-Kinney and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion had been doing it better for years. And Ben Folds proved that piano replaces guitar just fine. But so far, bands embracing the bass-and-drums approach have been few and far between. Other than godheadsilo and Lightning Bolt, I seem to run out of other examples. But if a guitars-only band can make it in this crazy world, I’m not ready to give up on a bass-only one. And the band that’s going to make bass the new guitar is Death From Above 1979.
If the name sounds a bit familiar, it might be because you had previously heard of Death From Above, which was the Vancouver duo’s name before DFA records threatened them with lawsuits over the damn thing. Their debut EP showed just how crazy and loud two guys can get, and their new full-length, You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine, manages to get even louder without adding anything other than the occasional touch of Moog. Jesse Keeler’s mega distorted, bowel disturbing bass sound is instantly recognizable. And every song is marked with his trademark low-end, though, strangely, this, in no way, puts restrictions on the group’s sound. They may seem like a one-trick pony, but DFA79 are an incredibly dynamic band for how limited their resources may be.
Much like other two-man bands Quasi and The Black Keys, though not the slightest bit similar sonically, Death From Above 1979 milk every precious last bit of sound out of their setup. You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine has a surprisingly rich sound to it, which is instantly evident in opener “Turn it Out,” a booming, destructive post-punk thrash-a-thon. The bass and drums hit you hard enough to knock the bloody sense out of you, but you best get up in time for the sexed-up “Romantic Rights,” which is a groovin’ single about makin’ babies.
The highlights never seem to stop on this half-hour set. The space-bass breakdown on “Going Steady” is righteous, as is the abrasive skronk of “Go Home, Get Down.” But slowed down, the band is equally kick-ass. Just check out the sweet melodies of “Black History Month” or the sexy swagger in “Little Girl.” Death From Above 1979 have the chops to transcend their absence of guitar, and in doing so, they almost make a case for its futility.
You can always argue that a two-man band leaves something out. And in all fairness, every now and again, one of Death From Above 1979’s songs sounds like it’s incomplete. That’s a very rare occasion, however, and being guitarless is not a handicap for the duo. By doing away with the infernal instrument, they’ve opened themselves up to a whole world of opportunity, one of which we’ve only seen the very beginning.
Les Savy Fav – The Cat and the Cobra
Dead Low Tide – Dead Low Tide
Femme Fatale – As You Sow, So Shall You Reap
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.