In a recent interview with Anthony Fantano, Death From Above 1979 made it very clear that their latest record Is 4 Lovers is the first time the band have been left to their own devices, with no outside influence from labels or producers. At the time, this left me excited, though also slightly nervous. After spending significant time with Is 4 Lovers, I can only describe the record as a failed experiment. I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed with a recent rock record. It’s not just underwhelming, but outright irritating.
DFA have always incorporated elements of dance in their music. The exhilarating blend of rock, punk, and dance made their debut album You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine such a cult classic. Sure, it was rough around the edges, but this only added to the DIY charm. Is 4 Lovers is produced like a dance record, with endless amounts of saturation and compression applied to, well, everything. This results in no dynamics and no substantial subtleties. If it were any longer than 30 minutes, I’m almost certain it would give me a headache. This, coming from someone with a passion for noise and industrial music.
Lead single “One + One” showed promise, and has since grown on me further. It’s the greatest example of this new formula working, attached with the classic DFA staples. The band are still at their best when driving through groovy bass riffs and pounding percussion. As a complete contrast, “Mean Streets” is a mess; a Lightning Bolt impression gone horribly wrong. The less said about “N.Y.C Power Elite Part 2” the better. Big, bombastic sounds leave no impression when the whole album is already turned up to 11.
Since the band reunited in 2011, the reception to their music has been mixed. Personally, I remain very fond of both The Physical World and Outrage! Is Now, particularly the latter with its heavy metal influences. However, for the first time, I’m wondering what's next for the duo. In some ways Is 4 Lovers sounds like a transitional record, though it could still end up being a one-off. During the Fantano interview, Grainger seemed actually excited about the risks attached: ‘I want this record to really click - all because of us - or really fail. If no-one likes it, we take all the blame.’ I can only hope Is 4 Lovers ends up being a mistake to learn from.
5 out of 10
Back in 2005, Death from Above 1979 made waves with You’re a Woman, I’m A Machine. Back in the hazy days of the early naughties two piece rock outfits were not as common as they are now with the likes of Royal Blood and Drenge, to name a couple. We would have to wait almost 10 years for anything new from Death from Above 1979, but it was worth it. Their consequent albums, The Physical World and Outrage! Is Now were superb.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for their most recent offering, Is 4 Lovers. The first taste of this record we had was the single “One + One”, which initially felt promising. It has the signature crunching bass riffs, but they’d evolved the drums adding in a snappy almost electronic kit in parts. It was an exciting start to what could have been a great album. However, nothing else in Is 4 Lovers really surpasses this track.
There are some notable additions like “Modern Guy”, which has some interesting production attached to it. Riffs bounce around the sonic space nicely, and you can really hear this when listening through headphones. “Free Animal” is another that stands out. It has a big sound, and the similarly snapping drums as in “One + One”. However, halfway through the record things drop of off. The slower jammed songs for me, don’t work. This isn’t to say that Death from Above 1979 can’t do slower paced songs. “White is Red” in The Physical World is an incredible track, and is an example of the range they have.
It’s worth noting that this is the first record produced by band themselves. Whether this experimentation is a result of finally moving the sound in direction they want, or a lack of objectivity on their part, it doesn’t really matter, the end result is the same: a record with some good tracks but which ultimately falls flat as a whole. I think I’ll stick to the first three releases for my regular Death From Above 1979 listening.
6 out of 10
With each listen of Is 4 Lovers, I’m puzzled as to why we’ve been so hard on it. “Modern Guy” is a stonking opener, a powerful riff matched with a scrappy, distorted, electronic aesthetic. The fierce cowbell is the icing on the cake. “One + One” is similarly satisfying, with its agitated hi-hat, a driving beat, and a half-time bridge reminiscent of The Strokes. “Free Animal” follows it, the bassline is sharp-edged, the wall of sound that hits the listener is satisfying, the noise is still pretty alluring.
A third of the way through, however, things start to unravel and plateau simultaneously. The over-compressed, heavily distorted sound begins to feel limiting, almost as if it’s masking something - or a lack of something. “Totally Wiped Out” features a squealing guitar shoved to the hard right, which feels out of place.
By the home stretch I’m no longer puzzled and instead a touch distracted. “Love Letter” is a nice change of pace, trading distortion for clean piano, which makes for an overdue respite, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that it’s only notable for its lack of distortion next to the rest of the tracklist. Meanwhile, “Mean Streets” and “No War” have moments of haywire noise and walls of sound, but neither feels like it reaches the envisioned potential, and I’d blame the production for that too.
Whether it’s a top-heavy tracklist or just a little homogeneous, Is 4 Lovers cools down very quickly. I still thoroughly enjoy those first ten minutes, and the rest of the album isn’t a divebomb, but DFA 1979 have missed the mark here.
6 out of 10