Few album titles better suit current affairs in 2017 than Outrage! Is Now. Toronto two piece Death From Above returns with their third full-length album, the bands second since their reunion following a ten-year hiatus. (Though they purportedly dropped the ‘1979’ from their band name, they remain Death From Above 1979 on their website domain and their Facebook page.)
DFA makes a roaring return on album opener Nomads. Sebastien Grainger‘s percussion steadily builds before Jesse Keeler’s bass kicks in. The track has a similar intensity to their acclaimed 2004 album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine but it deviates from the dance punk sound and discord for which DFA is best known. The sound is more in the vein of classic rock. Without referring to it explicitly, Nomads is about forced displacement. “Nomad, never home / No matter where you go,” Grainger wails on the chorus. Lyrically, Nomads sets the tone for an album that is more culturally critical than the band’s previous works.
Rather than the raw emotion that was the lyrical focus of You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, Outrage! Is Now is a social commentary for the internet age. Freeze Me asks, Are we in trouble? to which those in North America concerned by white supremacist rallies are liable to answer with a resounding yes. The album’s titular track simmers without reaching a boiling point. Outrage! Is Now is apathetic, claiming “Outrage is all that rage,” rather than critically engaging with the source of outrage. It feels as hollow as the Pepsi protest commercial that added fresh infamy to the Kardashian brand. Never Swim Alone is a loose criticism on consumerism that relies too heavily on clichés and quirky phrases like “YouTube haircut” and “Satan is my username.”
While the band’s label, Last Gang Records, describes the record as weirder and wilder than its predecessors, the album rarely approaches the passion or experimentalism of seminal track Romantic Rights. Despite the ominous build up on the verses of Moonlight, the chorus never reaches a satisfying crescendo. Similarly, the psych rock riffs of even keeled Statues lack the intensity that has always drawn fans to DFA. The reverberating fade out is the track’s most interesting instrumental element. Outrage! Is Now is nearly temperate when moderation is never what fans have sought in Death From Above.
There are, however, some instrumental standouts that suggest DFA are on their way to successfully diversifying their sound. Lead single Freeze Me is Keeler’s strongest instrumental track, incorporating melodic piano at the track’s opening and powerful bass riffs in its latter half.
Caught Up has a lazier tempo and subdued riffs. Coupled with lines like, “Tell me one thing you care about / Take your beliefs and shake them out, all the way out,” it runs a dispassionate course until the song makes a ripper transition in its latter half. The flailing minute is as unrestrained as DFA sounds on the album. “Caught Up” is a surprise standout in spite of its repetitious opening minutes.
“All I C Is U & Me” is a name that befits the internet culture DFA satirizes on Never Swim Alone. (The same can be said of penultimate track NVR 4EVR.) It could be derivative from the work of any number of the band’s early 2000s indie rock peers. Still All I C Is U & Me is also a fun, danceable track with a few satisfying pitch shifts.
Holy Books ends the album on a high note – literally in the case of Grainger’s falsetto. Keeler’s power ballad piano pairs successfully with the barrage of bass and percussion. The proclamation against organized religion on the chorus is readymade for a singalong when DFA tours the album. It’s a strong track worthy of the closing slot.
While Death From Above can be commended for never seeking to replicate the formula that earned them acclaim in 2004, Outrage! Is Now falls short of its full potential. DFA neither capitalize on the album’s critical possibilities nor invoke the typhoon of angst for which their previous works are known.