Album Review: Bass Drum of Death – ‘Bass Drum of Death’

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At first, John Barrett used to play his shows like a double-concentration version of the White Stripes. While Jack and Meg stripped their band down to the bare essentials of two people, a guitar and a drum kit, Barrett went one further – one man, sending out crashing bar chords whilst stomping out the beat through a bass drum. An album later, and Bass Drum of Death has conceded to play with a full live band, but continues to lay down everything on record himself, hopefully still in the insane, cartoonish one-man-band  fashion of gigs past.

That’s not the only change either. Whilst his 2008 debut GB City was mostly new-wave and punk orientated, the self-titled second album has its ambitious, increasingly technically complicated little fingers in far more pies. Generally, the record has a slightly heavier feel, which is partially the result of the newly present bass guitar and the fat, stoner-rock riffs that ooze out of it.

That said, the Wavves, Black Lips, and DZ Deathrays influences are still very much present – and Bass Drum of Death does a fine line in scuzzy surf punk. Opening track ‘I Wanna Be Forgotten’ surges out of the speakers with a wall of fuzz, sounding like the sort of stereotypical “I’m angry!” rock that James Franco’s character used to listen to on Freaks and Geeks. Just like FIDLAR’s debut earlier this year, Barrett uses the Beach Boys’ template to give the track a melodic lift by stringing faintly doo-wop “aaa-ow” backing vocals through the sludge. The driven, Misfits-influenced ‘Shattered Me’ will doubtless cause gallons of spilled beer live, as Barrett’s blurred vocals insist “No-one but me could leave these shattered dreams”. ‘Such A Bore’ owes a debt to early Nirvana, embodying all the core principles of punk that you can dance to – the hook beneath all the FX is as strong as ever, but only ever varies in tempo, repeating ad nauseam while Barrett ruminates on people’s tendency to stay the same and grow dull.

Elsewhere though, Barrett has pushed the project on, and spilled across into a neighbouring genre. Once you’re in the garage, there’s only so much to entertain you. Stoner-rock was only ever a toke away. There’s more than a hint of the Black Keys on ‘Fine Lines’, as the guitar line chugs out beefed up blues worthy of Josh Homme. Combined with the fat bass and a slight sense of paranoia (the chorus, slightly plaintively, repeats “All my friends are gone”), it creates a classic stoner sound. Later, with a pinch of pyschedelia, Bass Drum of Death’s foray into stoner-rock ventures into audibly 1970s territory. ‘Faces of the Wind’ is driven by a booming bass and an echoing bass-drum, with a simple riff that calls to mind Black Sabbath – a very successful homage to stoner-rock’s roots and some impressive drumming; it’s no wonder he can’t do it with just his feet any more.

Just two years on from his debut record, Bass Drum of Death shows a definite creative expansion – and Barrett shows no sign of losing his way with a hook. Ranging across thrash and garage, surf-punk and classic rock, this isn’t an album that’s reinventing the wheel. But Bass Drum of Death is an interesting combination of influences, easily worn. Barrett knows he’s rehashing, but it’s fast, dirty and fun- so who cares. You’ll be too busy dancing and yelling to question the originality.

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Album Review: FIDLAR – ‘FIDLAR’

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Ever since Drake’s ‘Motto’, kids around the world have been, both seriously and ironically, justifying their every dumb move with shouts of “YOLO!”. But a four-piece skate-punk band from L.A. have come up with an alternative life-philosophy acronym, and named both their band and debut album in its honour. And FIDLAR (which stand for “fuck it dog, life’s a risk”), with their carefree, hedonistic lifestyle and scuzzy, furiously catchy tracks, is looking a far more appealing core belief than the douchey machismo of YOLO.

Easily identifiable as influenced by big brother bands like the Black Lips and Wavves, and with more than a little in common with contemporaries the Bleeding Knees Club and Ice Age, FIDLAR is scuzzy punk-rock with an evident underlying pop sensibility. With all the skate/surf-punk influences of Los Angeles, backed up by the driving sound of San Francisco’s garage rock scene, the album is sun-drenched, hazy, and the perfect musical accomplishment for getting wasted and living for the moment.

Very much aficionados of the “write what you know” school of thought, the album’s central themes are drink, drugs, surf, skate, and girls. Though the sound is almost as limited as their lyrical range, they’re excellent at what they do – you’ll get little more than manic, chugging barre chords over the precise, driving rhythm section but the scrappy hooks will be in your head as soon as you first hear them. It’s genuine, honest, and though a little repetitive, unashamedly fun.

‘Stoked and Broke’ whirls along at break-neck speed, channelling the Black Lips and early Green Day, as Zac Carper slurs words soon to be adorning the exercise books of fifteen year olds everywhere – “I just wanna get really high, smoke weed until I die / There’s nothing wrong with living like this, all my friends are pieces of shit”. Later, on ‘Max Can’t Surf’ (re-recorded from their earlier EP), the pace slows but the sentiment remains. The last time you heard someone shout about “two packs a day” with the same venom, it was similar good-time layabouts the Beastie Boys, whilst in the hooky, surf guitar there’s more than a passing resemblance to the Beach Boys.

 Perhaps the most representative track is the self-explanatory ‘Wake Bake Skate’, a breakneck thrash with a Misfits-esque bassline (and more succinct lyrics; “I’m so fuckin’ cheap and I’m so fuckin’ broke and I don’t have a job and I don’t have a phone / Don’t have a life and I’m always stoned”). The only real point of contrast is in the album’s closing, secret track, when Carper sings “I’m spending all my cash on cheap cocaine, and I been wasted almost every day / I don’t know what to do, it kinda sucks being twenty two”.

Though it’s a realist final note, it’s a five-in-the-morning, comedown reflection, rather than a real decision to change. At a time when I, along with everyone I know, madly scrabble to find paid employment, it’s refreshing to hear someone standing up for the ideals of getting fucked up and not worrying about what the future might bring.