Play The Dead Science’s Villainaire on the brightest, warmest sunny afternoon, just as summer’s making its final victory lap and school buses are starting to rev, and soon enough everything becomes engulfed in darkness. Clouds slowly roll in over the horizon, bold and brooding, and a dark shadow overcomes the inside of your house. An eerie chill blows in from the cracks and crevices in doorways and windowpanes, and a feeling of utter dread fills in every nook and cranny. In just a few minutes, the entire scenery has changed, and what it has become is something both entirely foreign and altogether frightening.
To call The Dead Science `dark’ doesn’t quite do them justice. To call them `artsy’ doesn’t really give you any clearer picture. And to add to that list of descriptions `dramatic’ is really quite an understatement. On the band’s third album Villainaire, the Seattle-based trio conjures up a harrowing and intense sound that is truly among the more bizarre things you’ll hear in 2008, and if you’re of sound mind enough to withstand the aural exorcism, you’ll also be delighted to hear that it’s one of the best. Combining Xiu Xiu’s dark post-punk leanings, the operatic rock of Shudder To Think, Deerhoof’s artful guitar blasts and the nightmarish odyssey of Scott Walker’s recent efforts, Villainaire is intensity encapsulated in song.
With guests such as Shudder To Think’s Craig Wedren and Celebration’s Katrina Ford along for the ride, and a dedication to the Wu-Tang Clan (apparently the band members are huge fans), Villainaire is an album that raises the dramatic bar while sending the listener into an unsettling feeling of vertigo. Every verse is like a sprint through a hall of fun house mirrors, punctuated by demented clowns and gusts of toxic nerve gas. The innocent introduction of harp in “Throne of Blood (The Jump Off)” is but a ruse, as the song is overtaken by furiously plucked guitars and pounded percussion, while frontman Sam Mickens, in his disturbing warble, croons “tonight I fear there’s something in the air,” perfectly putting to words the sort of dread that the music seems to build.
“The Dancing Destroyer” is a bit more accessible by contrast, with electric guitars riffing away, and a rhythm that drills away like Deerhoof’s best moments. Yet it becomes even more fantastic during the chorus, when the horn section unleashes a magnificent fanfare beneath Mickens’ plea “O Demon Speed! Take hold of my heart and cover my eyes.” While the title of “Make Mine Marvel” might leave one to snicker and add a “nuff said,” its prickly combination of dark chords and soaring strings is anything but a spin on Spidey’s web. “Monster Island Czars” clangs and crashes with one of the most abrasive sounding cellos in recent memory, though “Lamentable” temporarily descends into a softer, more serene (though still unsettling) sound. “Death Duel Productions” kicks up some more dust, and charges forth into a whirling cyclone of symphonic weirdness during its fierce chorus, and though it was an awesome enough track on its own, the addition of Craig Wedren’s voice during the bridge puts it even further over the top.
To the best of my knowledge, everyone who has contributed to Villianaire is, in fact, a living and breathing human being. But something tells me that there’s something truly supernatural on this album. It’s a vicious and snarling beast of a record. It sounds nothing like any typical rock album, and is unlikely to have been written by a `rock band’ by any conventional definition. The Dead Science is certainly no typical rock band, but it’s hard not to wonder if some mischievous specters also took part in the festivities.
Scott Walker – The Drift
Xiu Xiu – Fabulous Muscles
Deerhoof – Apple O’
MP3: “Throne of Blood”
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.