Success as an indie buzz-band takes just three easy steps: Make one good album, win some kind of cosmic-marketing lottery, and make a few more albums. The first step can be skipped if you really hit the mega-millions, but the second and third are mostly mandatory.
Death From Above 1979’s Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger seemed like they had made the right deal with the devil with their 2004 album, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine. The high-octane punk record ran on the kind of brash enthusiasm usually reserved for circus acts, and fans matched the vibe in earnest. It was loud, vulgar and unpolished but it was distinctly fun with no disclaimers. After charting a new direction for punk rock and hitting an unbelievable jackpot of popularity for a band of their kind, the duo ignored Step Three for 10 whole years. This year, they reunited to give us The Physical World.
Listening to a record so similar to You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine makes for a disorienting trip to the mid-2000s, but the time loop is welcome when it means fielding fuzz-grenades like “Government Trash.” Rockers of any age can scream “21! 21!” and pound whatever’s around to Grainger’s meaty drumbeat. Elsewhere, we find lyrics like the chorus of “Right On, Frankenstein!” that could only be revived from a simpler time for pop-punk. DFA 1979 pull off lines like “I don’t wanna die but I wanna be buried/Meet me at the gates of the cemetery” a full five years after Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll” and it still sounds wicked cool. The squealing guitars on “Gemini” alone deserve their own reunion tour.
At other times, the band’s spirit seems worn down and misfiring. “White is Red” drags us through a half-baked narrative of a teen runaway, padded with the mantra, “She crossed the line/she crossed the line” until the song feels long enough to end. Keeler offers the lifeless statement that we can’t see the future on “Crystal Ball,” adding nothing to sentiment except an unremarkable riff. No one needed reminding which direction time moves in, but we spend three minutes on the lesson. Stiff, phoned-in songs make the good ones seems like the product of a persona, something no one suspected on their previous output.
DFA 1979 take brief adventures from their sound, but none too surprising. “Trainwreck 1979” sounds like an AC/DC song written by a third, more lucid Young brother hoping to score a Verizon Wireless commercial. The title track starts out as a chiptune nightmare and closes the album with a robotic funeral march. The noise throughout is a little more restrained, though it doesn’t trade abrasiveness for catchiness; You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine is still better party music.
It may be natural for fans to gripe that this record would be so much better as a glorious 2006 follow-up, cementing Death From Above 1979 as a punk-rock prototype, but it would have been even wilder to hear in 2002 or 1965 or 1812. To some fault, this band is behind the times, but The Physical World is exhilarating right now. And just rocking out isn’t something to complain about.
The Physical World is available now via Last Gang Records/Warner Bros.

Perfume Genius
Melodrama is always a gamble. You could hit the sweet spot for a strong reaction, or overdo it and get come off as “trying too hard,” a mortal sin in art, high and low. Remarkably, Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius has never made a misstep, though he treads far from the range of subtlety. On 2012’s “Hood,” Hadreas sang “you would never call me baby if you knew the truth,” a line that would feel flimsy and plastic in the hands of a lesser performer, but broke a thousand hearts behind his confessional cry. Not only does Hadreas hold on to his streak of resonance on Too Bright, he actually ups the intensity and opens up the drama to a wider cast of emotions.
The majority of songs in Perfume Genius’ catalog follow the formula of tender piano keys and frank introversion, with Hadreas taking his time to arrange his soul with care. When he drops lines like “There’s no safe place for the heart to hang when the body’s no good,” he leaves plenty of space for the idea to occupy (“No Good”). In an interview with Wondering Sound’s Jayson Greene, Hadreas pointed to Raymond Carver and Lorrie Moore as the kind of writers he tends to emulate. “It’s very simple language and you have to read between the lines to get everything. But there’s still a lot of heart to it. I don’t find it cold.”
Hadreas’ slurred, barely-there vocals demand close attention to pick out, and the fine details you find when you burrow deep into each song’s crevices are reward enough. It’s fitting, then, that the album’s last words on “All Along” are “I don’t need you to understand/I need you to listen.”
This is the Perfume Genius we know. On the lead single, “Queen” he leaves tenderness on hold to transform himself into a parody of the public menace that people see when he walks down the street. The singer puts on a queer monster mask, hunting for innocents to infect with the gay agenda like a Scooby Doo villain, predatory and ugly with “skin sewn on in sheets.” Threatening sirens frame the kicker: “No family is safe when I sashay.”
A lifelong struggle with Crohn’s disease makes him a monster too on “My Body,” where he slithers out from the underworld to invite you in “if you handle the stink.” On “Grid” he’s a banshee warning you to turn back with long, chilling shrieks that drown out a choir’s chanting. The common structure is a scene of murk and shadows, smashed by a blinding light.
Nestled between the horrors are quietly powerful statements like “Don’t Let Them In.” In another time, the tune could have been a Dionne Warwick or Carole King standard, but it’s Hadreas who feels “trapped in this body” and too exhausted to greet company. Gumdrop-sweet piano chords lift the crushing sadness.
The album is divided unevenly between these styles, though, sometimes feeling disorganized when we jump between moods without warning. Signature Perfume Genius piano ballads feel like grainy home movies while the glam-rock half plays like a blockbuster thriller. Both can make us laugh or cry, but the two poles probably shouldn’t borrow from each other. No one asked for Paranormal Activity: The Musical. With pointed grace, Too Bright skirts that line and still comes out feeling genuine.
On the wildly confrontational half of this record, Perfume Genius shoots the moon, and on the gentle, pleading melodies, he floats among the stars.
Too Bright is available Sept. 23 via Matador Records.

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