The Canadian dance-punk duo’s newest is powered by equal measures of passion and patience
If someone ever came across one of Death from Above 1979’s earlier cover art without ever having listened to them, they’d probably reckon a sound they couldn’t get behind even from the outset. Their faces rendered like a version of Penelope (substituting the pig for an elephant) or that one spy creature from Star Wars, it seems the Canadian dance-punk duo are purposely trying to discomfort, or project a sound that could only be described as “wonky.” But, no, they’re sort of like Daft Punk, only less daft and more punk, and with unremitting panache. Their latest LP, Is 4 Lovers, is on a whole new experimental iteration. It chisels their powerfully slick and audacious, full of creative sleight-of-hand electronic sound that comes close to the verge of—but never quite—bubbling over.
One would think all that previous dabbling in brawn would result in a LP just for brash booms and bangs, but that is not the case. Contrarily, drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger goes melodic on Is 4 Lovers’ single, “One + One,” sounding uncannily close to Julian Casablancas’ doting intonation — the same downright gorgeous cadence that resurfaces for a spell on “N.Y.C. Power Elite Part I.” Yet, most of the time, he belts pithy lines through scraping, broken-up gushes of sound on such hyperactive tracks as “Modern Guy” and “Free Animal,” both of which the other half of the duo, Jesse Keeler, accentuates with his own magic versatility through volleys of bass and synth, conjuring massive riffs that infect and empower just as much as Grainger’s rhythms hook and groove.
The latter half of the 10-track record is comparatively slower and more meticulous in a space they create for themselves to really milk it out and show off. “Glass Homes” is the perfect example of this assiduous side. Throughout, there’s a steady digital arpeggio that provides the backstream for Grainger’s vocals to float and spread, and for gritty, off-beat synth chords to periodically pop up. At a point, all instruments surrender for an ultra-minimal solo of scrambled light knots that sounds like vintage computer malfunction made musical or the aural equivalent of a flaring cramp.
“Love Letter” is similarly less in your face and screaming; darling lyrics flow out to august synth chords under an overarching mood of longing. Same with “Mean Streets,” the song about the titular movie. Robert De Niro is namedropped, and machismo is mentioned, quietly and soothingly, until it erupts into a hot and expanding noise blister mid-song that then bursts and settles back down to the level at which they started. It only occurs once. It’s like they fast snuck a modicum of their mania into one of their slow songs, unable to resist, but it adds a compositional dimension that makes it unlike anything of their coevals’ output: a proof of their creative moxie.
Blending blown-out synths, wide, abysmal bass and intricate, pinpointed percussion, Is 4 Lovers functions in the perfect median of propulsive garage-pop gusto and intelligent EDM ornamentation—at once compressed and explosive, glossy and grainy, wide and arrowed. It’s their most novel yet.