It’s been seventeen years since Death From Above 1979 released their debut, ‘You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine’. However, given the state of the world today compared to 2004, it might as well have been a millenia.
The Toronto duo have always existed somewhat out of time, crafting bludgeoning dance-punk that sounded nothing like the garage rock and post-punk revival scene that dominated the culture during the era of their inception. They were always more modern, more confrontational, and weirdly sexier than their peers in denim jackets and skinny ties, wielding a sonic palette more indebted to Lightning Bolt and French house music than Gang Of Four and Joy Division.
Creative differences resulted in the duo burning out before fading away, splitting up just a year after their debut’s release. Since their reunion in 2011, however, Death From Above 1979 have been on red hot form. 2014’s ‘The Physical World’ expanded their range while losing none of the riotous fun, and 2017’s ‘Outrage! Is Now’ saw them boiling their sound down to its bare essentials, crafting something darker, heavier, and more cynical than they’d ever managed before.
‘Is 4 Lovers’ lands in early 2021, in a world teeming with anxieties and contradictions. Death From Above 1979 manage to mine this strange state of affairs with impressive gusto, basing much of the record’s lyrics on the teeming complexities of contemporary existence. ‘Glass Homes’ counters the cynicism accusations, chanting that “but there’s some magic in the world, believe in something or it doesn’t turn”, while ‘Mean Streets’ takes aim at masculinity and “fragile young egos”.
The social commentary of ‘Outrage! Is Now’ raised a few eyebrows, as did bassist Jesse Keeler‘s supposed friendship with Proud Boys founder, Gavin McInnes (Keeler has since clarified that he vehemently opposes the Proud Boys ideology, and is no longer friends with McInnes), and generally Death From Above 1979‘s perspective is that of the true neutral, casting provocative, if not especially deep glances across our wild social landscape. There’s a lack of side taking that is sure to rile a few feathers, from ‘N.Y.C. Power Elite Parts 1 + 2’‘s takedown of city elites (“I haven’t eaten cake since the last election”) to ‘Glass Homes’‘s “maybe politics sucks, face it everybody’s messed up”.
The sheer amount of political content is a minor distraction. It’s questionable whether or not Death From Above 1979 needed to go quite as hard with it, given that, at their best, such as on early classic ‘Romantic Rights’ and more recent career highlights ‘White Is Red’ and ‘All I C Is U & Me’, the duo’s beating romantic hearts provide more timeless and poignant insights than their satirical swipes at modern culture. There’s also a touch of contradiction at play; the duo seem eager to cast themselves as neutral observers watching the chaos unfold, yet they also have a lot of two cents to chip in themselves.
‘Is 4 Lovers’ isn’t Death From Above 1979‘s best album. In fact, it’s probably their weakest. However, it still possesses much of the boisterous charm that made Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger cult heroes in the first place, packed with fuzzy riffs, danceable grooves, and an infectious sense of joie de vivre, albeit one that has been complicated by the myriad complexities of this strange new world.