Is 4 Lovers both reminds of DFA’s appeal and evinces the diminishing results when they stray from their template.
Death From Above 1979 seem to have found a comfortable groove for themselves over the last few years, releasing three albums since 2014 when the band reunited after an approximately eight-year hiatus. While not the heftiest release ratio for a band participating in the modern-day music industry, there was a time where it seemed probable that the Toronto (dance) punk duo would never return with new music at all, the band’s initial dissolution coming on the heels of their first album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, with their popularity only growing. This rejection of impending fame suggested that members Sebastien Grainger and Jesse F. Keeler were either really too dysfunctional as artistic collaborators (what the band has posited) or discomfited by mass visibility (at this point, their single “Romantic Rights” was being used as the theme song for MTV’s Human Giant), though Grangier spent DFA’s hiatus years releasing solo material while Keeler found new successes as half of MSTRKRFT.
The world that DFA stepped back into with their 2014 release, The Physical World, was a lot different than the one their band was born into, but their music — screeching hardcore riffs given structure by synth pop melodies — was better suited for this new era than just about any of their indie rock contemporaries. But while the band’s aesthetic fits comfortably with today’s preferences, Grangier and Keeler (a frequent guest on Gavin McInnes’ podcast) have acclimated to current cultural climates less well, maintaining a leering, macho lyrical perspective that noticeably clashes with the sensitivities that inform most American pop music today.
DFA’s latest album, Is 4 Lovers, suggests that the band isn’t particularly flustered by any of that, this project being a pretty straightforward continuation of what they’ve been doing thus far, albeit with a softened lyrical aggression befitting the title. Lead-off tracks “Modern Guy” and “One + One” (this album’s sole pre-release single) are classic Death From Above 1979 cuts, lots of chugging metallic guitar noise backed by synth manipulation and drumming patterned off disco rhythms — noise organized into catchy pop composition. These songs are as convincing a realization of the band’s aesthetic as anything on their debut, still committed to dopey, blunt songwriting, but steering away from the playful misogyny of older singles like “Death Womb” and the aforementioned “Romantic Rights.” The results are no less brainy, but that’s not really an issue for DFA, who are more keen on finding suggestive phrases and mantras to complement their instrumentation than reaching for the poetic. This works well on “Modern Guy” — where Grangier yowls “I’m a modern guy / In a modern time” in an Ozzy register to cool effect, for instance — but less so as the album progresses and the band fiddles with their formula. Is 4 Lovers’ centerpiece, “NYC Power Elite” (split into a “Part I” and “Part II”), has these two taking aim at the New York art world phonies in the goofiest fashion, using the title phrase as the basis for an imagined Saturday morning cartoon theme song (think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), their contempt and venom fizzling into low-stakes complaints about millennial bourgeois’ fashion sense (ripped jeans in the boardroom), plastic surgery, and a refusal to carry cash. Clearly, DFA works best when its members’ personalities and ideologies are abstracted and obscured, and Is 4 Lovers’ second half irrefutably proves this with the sappy, Oasis-influenced piano ballad “Love Letters” and “Glass Homes,” a cringey celebration of political centrism that shouldn’t have been bothered with. With this fourth album, we can see that Death From Above 1979 are still assured, clever musicians, but hopelessly lost when they leave their perfected template.
Published as part of Album Roundup — March 2021 | Part 2.