It's been a while since a record had this great an impact on me and at that by a band that I'd nearly forgotten about. In 2010 I discovered the band with its album 'Phosphene' that included great songs like 'Yellow Elevator'. The follow up album, 'Indigo Meadow' (2013), disappointed me and after that I lost track of the band. In fact I just found out that Death Song is the band's first full-length release since 2013. The four year hiatus has done the band a lot of good, musically.
Death Song is a like a dirty rag. Too dirty to use again, so dirty that it seems dangerous even to pick up from the floor. Just listen to 'Currency', the opening song. A dirty sound, a cluttered mix and singer Alex Maas singing, not unlike German singer and actress Nico, but so much more supple. Maas can sing, in his own mysterious way. In fact, if I hadn't seen the photographs, I would have sworn there is a lady singing on this album. Around him the guitars are distorted and fuzzed in all sorts of ways in order to create a fuzzy, psychedelic world. A world where nothing is what it seems. Actually, the only thing that is concrete are the drums. Stephanie Bailey is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Hopefully not as contended. The drums sound surprisingly bright, with clear sounding cymbals, like a lighthouse in the storm and rain.
With the sound another interesting feature of Death Song is mentioned. The band obviously enjoys searching for extreme guitar sounds. Underneath completely normal sounding guitars can be heard, until they are taken over by extreme overdubs, sweeping the structure of a song from its feet and taking it in other directions. Sonic adventures to follow with red ears.
The darkness is joined by a portion mystery. In part in the voice of singer Alex Maas. Yet that is not all. It is in the windswept guitar sprawls that are all over a song or the keyboards that envelop a song almost to obfuscate what is going on in a song. The directness of a song like 'Hunt Me Down' is a fine contrast to the meandering 'Comanche Moon'. One of the most beautiful moments on the album is when in, the fairly traditional sounding, 'Estimate' the keyboard joins, leaves, a second voice enters and the keyboard comes back. This is what true inspiration sounds like to me. It's not more than two notes and that is all it takes in this context. At the same time completely normal little 60s sounding guitar licks can be heard, where nothing wild and exciting is going on. All adding to the perfect balance of Death Song.
The pièce de résistance is kept for the end. Believe it or not, this dirge is called 'Life Song'. It is all about dying in a vast expanse. The keyboard sound, I suppose a Mellotron, is superb, the tempo dragging along, always halted by the lingering Mellotron. The voice full of resignation and despair. There's nothing left to save here. Over the past months I have tipped a few songs as future top songs for the Top 2000. And here I am always "complaining" that "they" don't make songs like 'Just A Little Bit Of Peace In My Heart', 'Eloise' or 'Stairway To Heaven' any more. Well people, I have news for you, 'Life Song' is such a song. Though certainly more one dimensional, it is monumental. The best song Earth & Fire never recorded. "I'm dying, I'm dying", Alex Maas sings and I'm believing every word. This is the voice of someone looking death straight into the eyes. Luckily, knowing my Pratchett, Death can be pretty funny in those dying seconds before the soul says 'pop', with a last, small twinkle. There's hope yet.
You can listen to 'Currency' here: