“I Wanna Take This Tape and Blow Up Ya Fuckin’ Stereo” is both the title of the first track on The Death Set’s sophomore album Michael Poiccard, as well as the spoken phrase that makes up the entirety of the seconds-long track. More importantly, it’s also a mission statement of sorts for the band. The Baltimore spazz-punk outfit is a tightly wound ball of sonic napalm, sending shards of shrapnel flying with each miniature anthem they detonate. Michael Poiccard takes that maniacal, giddy spirit first heard on 2008’s Worldwide, streamlines it, stretches it out, packs in a few more hooks and creates an even bigger fireworks display.
Yet despite the hyperactive menace, it’s hard to look past the tragic events that led up to this point. Before the Death Set began the process of writing and recording the album, founding member and friend Beau Velasco died of a drug overdose. This devastated the band, and others, when faced with such a tragedy, might have ended the band altogether (or at least changed the name). But the Death Set did no such thing, instead paying tribute to Velasco with a dreamy, gorgeous shoegazer romp titled “I Miss You Beau Velasco,” its heady layers of distortion and reverb-heavy vocals providing one of the album’s most transcendent moments. Prior to that, the group drops a trippy slice of spoken weirdness from Velasco called “Is That A French Dog?” created from a story caught on tape.
Michael Poiccard isn’t, however, a bleak or mournful album. Quite the contrary; the band promised to blow up your stereo, and that’s metaphorically speaking, exactly what they do here. They surge through a slab of videogame punk on “Slap Slap Slap Pound Up Down Snap,” and serve a fists-in-the-air punk rock anthem on the infectious “We Are Going Anywhere Man.” “Michael Poiccard Prefers the Old (She Yearns for the Devil)”, meanwhile, tips its hat to Andrew W.K., doing away with subtlety altogether and simply charging through a furious hard rock anthem fit for stadiums and afterschool drives alike. The relatively low-key “7PM Woke Up An Hour Ago” seems an unlikely place for a Spank Rock guest vocal, but the collaboration works much better than expected. And Diplo’s wobbly keyboard hook on “Yo David Chase! You POV Shot Me In the Head” sounds quite at home alongside the band’s fiery organ hooks and distorted shouts.
Through Michael Poiccard, the Death Set injects the listener with a shot of adrenaline that hardly ever lets up, save for the odd interlude and brief drop in tempo. But whenever the band slows down, it’s important to note that in no time, they’ll be back up and running at maximum speed. Though the loss of a member could have very well prevented this album from being released, the band fueled that sadness and frustration into something magnificent, staying true to their vision while capturing the spirit of their fallen friend. After all, the voice that threatens to blow up your stereo is that of Velasco, himself.
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.