Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Death From Above 1979 - Heads Up EP

Death From Above 1979
Heads Up EP

Released 2002 on Ache Records
Reviewed by Brandon Tenold, 05/03/2009ce

Released at the end of 2002 on a small Vancouver based record label in very limited quantities, “Heads Up” was the introduction of Death From Above 1979 (then without the “1979”) to those lucky enough to get their hands on it. A 6 song EP of barely 14 minutes, the band already sounds fully formed and ready to prove to the world what they already know: That rock music can be sexy while still being heavy, a catchy hook is something to be proud of, and that two pasty, skinny hipsters from Toronto can produce the biggest, most glorious noise you’ve ever heard in your life.

The sound on “Heads Up” is even more raw and raucous than their 2004 full-length debut “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine”, over-recorded and with minimal separation between the instruments. Indeed, Jesse F. Keeler’s Gigantor-fuzz bass and Sebastian Grainger’s manic drums and primal sex-howl seem to be fighting for space in the mix and at times pushing against the very confines of the record itself.

The record begins unassumingly enough, that is, as unassumingly as a high-pitched, effects-drenched voice singing a lullaby about cocaine can be. Soon enough though, the first song “Dead Womb” starts proper, with Keeler hammering out the first of many fantastic bass lines from his Rickenbacker 4001. Grainger’s drums crash and bash along with him, even making use of some gloriously sloppy double bass pedal flailing. Grainger’s drumming overall is a bit more “metal” on this record, or is it punk? Y’know what? Fuck it. All I know is he’s an absolute beast, whether he’s bashing on his kit or yelping out his many odes to the pleasures/pains of lurve in today’s world. To that effect, Grainger yelps out one of the best opening lines to a song ever:

“So many girls I knooooowwwwwwww/poison their wombs for sure”

Grainger then opines his frustration with the vapid, vain and seemingly endless parade of loose women encountered at clubs and states his intention to look for a girl he can make his wife, and he makes it sound like the most rock and roll thing ever. The track then ends with a sample of a hoary old narrator saying “chapter 24” looped over top of some record bin soundtrack strumming that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a DJ shadow record.

Most of the other songs follow this pattern of subdued opening/kickass bassline/somewhat unintelligible yet catchy as fuck chorus/sampled outro to some extent, but each song manages to create its own identity, and they hit you so hard and so fast the EP doesn’t have time to get repetitive, the longest track clocking in at 3 minutes. The limited instrumentation is also never a problem, especially when you’ve got a bassist as skilled, original and just plain ballsy as Jesse F. Keeler, proving that a distorted bass guitar is a powerful weapon indeed in the right hands. Check out his Chris Squire by way of Lemmy riffage during the chorus of “Losing Friends” and his roof-raising moment just after the sub-Frampton vocoder rap in the middle of “Do It!!!”. He’s an absolute fountain of fantastic riffs and overdriven frequencies. Speaking of that aforementioned vocoder rap, it’s moments like that one and the unison bass/synth/vocal circus riff that ends last track “If We Don’t Make It We’ll Fake It” that help put this band in a class of their own. They’re the type of idiosyncratic yet truly awesome moments that most distortion-disciple meatheads wouldn’t even dream of. Is it any wonder why Death From Above are that rare type of band that can bring TV on the Radio loving scene kids and Queens of the Stone Age riff mongers together under one roof?

In a flash, the 6 tracks of “Heads Up” are over before you even know what hit you, and you’re suddenly hit with a desire to hear it again. In many ways, this EP is a perfect encapsulation of the bands entire career: fast, furious and over far too soon.

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