Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Destruction Unit's "Deep Trip": Music Review

Brooklyn label Sacred Bones keeps releasing powerful psychedelic albums from groups reared on classic, indie, and hard rock. Songs opt for brevity. Vocals roar and whine, but without the deeper registers associated with metal today. Guitars, bass, drums thump and thud in a maelstrom.

That description applies to colleagues signed to this innovative label, one of the best small enterprises thriving. That's not to disparage the band, but to encourage you: this is co-produced by Ben Greenberg of label standouts The Men. As with tour mates Milk Music and Merchandise, Destruction Unit crashes off the louder college rock tunefulness of thirty years ago, mixed with a grittier preference for distortion, pedals, muck--if fewer anthems. But (unlike a band such as Wooden Shijps, which while I listen to them seem to lately stay stuck on songs that remain the same), neo-psychedelic bands, in their more compact versions, need to freshen repetition and drones to avoid a short shelf life. This style risks turning stale fast.

This band, a loose amalgamation, originated a decade ago with Jay Reatard, Alicja Trout, and Ryan Rousseau. Evolving from synthesizers into a lo-fi squall and recently a tighter, less ramshackle precision, what distinguishes these five fiery musicians out of Arizona's enigmatic Ascetic House collective, on their first proper full-length? Coming out soon after Void, this shares that record's wider distribution on Sacred Bones, but compresses its heady attack into a consistent claustrophobia. Allow quiet time to turn this up. Play it repeatedly, and what initially rushes past reveals care and craft.

Each song on this firm, abrupt plunge into a cauldron leaves a burn, an acidic tinge, and viscera. Each song's title conveys the sense of it exactly. Brutal, detached, unsettling, it's all bracing jolts as the vehicle careens through the barren soundscape, from its desert origins as dry, hostile, and primal.

Beginning with echoed scrapes, "The World on Drugs" forces the listener downward. Spiraling, this song refuses to take off. Until a hardcore riff slams in. Rousseau's chants overlay melody. Beneath the feedback, Destruction Unit, like its 1980s forebears, sticks in enough hooks. Vocals come closer to downbeat stoner rock than indie rock, a bit of a surprise, but a wise choice. This feels a relief after so many Brooklyn bands aping their British or New York predecessors.

Picking up the same pace, "Slow Death Songs" keeps this well-sequenced album gloomy. More primordial voices, but the early Misfits-like mood turns this peppy as well as poisonous to fit its title.

Slower, "Bumpy Road" waits for the delay of the drums against the guitar; vocals march along in a funereal pattern, evoking ahead a sinister fate for the wayfarer. It's not easy to discern the vocals on an MP3 file provided for review, but I suppose this effect adds to the thicker texture the band prefers.

You may wonder what fellow Arizonans the Meat Puppets might have evolved into if the drugs hadn't taken their toll."God Trip" channels the force of the three guitarists, Rousseau, Jesco Aurelius, and Nick Nappa. They lift this off into a tuneful, if still very messy, excursion glancing around upwards.

Staying aloft, "Final Flight" locks into a Hawkwind groove with Andrew Flores' usually thundering drums fading and Rusty Rousseau's bass far below. Ryan Rousseau's tone insists on taking this journey seriously. Unlike the Meat Puppets, there's no levity to break the tension as this album tightens its hold, and this tightens its grip. It shoves you into its constriction and then, breaking free for a song or two, hints at the transcendent. But Deep Trip refuses to let go of the sludge even as it takes you higher.

Fittingly, "The Holy Ghost" hovers in attenuated manifestation. Guitars wait to transmit feeble pulses. Ryan Rousseau talks as if to himself in his vocal phrasing, until the instruments shake off the fealty to the force. They resist its pull, and as if a rebellious angel or determined demon, Rousseau speaks for those refusing the lull of the faithful departed. Or so I imagine, in my own storyline as I listen. Destruction Unit allows spiritual space within sonic thrust, for you to create your own inner visions.

Punchier beneath the constant whirlwind, "Control the Light" reminds me of Dave Vanian from the Damned, or Peter Murphy of Bauhaus, with commanding vocals nearer those proto-Goth singers' barks. I realize this approach might discourage some; it may muffle this album's power. Rousseau favors a slightly reverbed, slightly British accent, but within this genre, vocal mannerisms may work--as with predecessor Jay Reatard. "Night Loner" stretches out. It adds screechy guitar that points to a Farflung-friendly space rock, if a moment before the crash landing on an alien sphere.

Deep Trip lives up to its name, just as each song does. Form matches content. Whether by the boost of certain chemicals or by the grace of living near a bleak terrain, Destruction Unit means it. They play from the abyss, and reach out to pull you in beside their queasy, addled, bleary, fuzzy selves. (Amazon US 7-20-13 in shorter form; PopMatters as above same date)

Band's website

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