Review Summary: Flashy yet gloomy, dark yet colorful.
Deadsy describes their music as ‘undercore’. I have no idea, beyond the meaning of the word itself, how that applies to their music. I know the band is trying to get to the fact that their sound is like it comes literally through the underground, but still… undercore? More puzzling is (or was, actually) the band’s official biography, a rambling and extremely long manifesto with plenty of big words describing Deadsy as an ‘institution’ representing the many facets of society, including Academics, Athletics, Medicine, Horror Movies (yeah, I know), etc.
How this all relates to the music is anyone’s guess, and from Deadsy’s own description of their music and image, right down to the colorful costumes and makeup the band wears, you’d think the whole thing was just a big stupid gimmick. Deadsy has an idea, and a big one at that. The back artwork shows a portrait of the band, clad in multicolored school cardigans, looking at a map of the world, ready to take it over. What that is, well, who knows, but you can sense their attempt at communicating their message on their debut, ‘Commencement’, like aliens trying to communicate with planet earth.
The album itself? Not too shabby. Instead of describing Deadsy as ‘undercore’, I’ll give you this: Essentially, Deadsy sounds like a combination of Orgy (fuzzed out and synth like guitars), Duran Duran (plenty of 80s pop sounding instruments and new wave sensibilities), and hints of Type O Negative (deep vocals, songs slowed to a snail’s crawl). There are plenty of bright keyboards on this just to reinforce the feeling of time warping back to the 80s. Now add plenty of intellectually stimulating lyrics and you have Commencement in a basic nutshell.
Singer Philip Exeter Blue the 1st (actually Elijah Blue, son of Cher, no joke!) is a more than competent vocalist. This album certainly sounds unique and it’s difficult to imagine another vocalist tackling this. Sounding like a mix of Marilyn Manson and Jay Gordon (Orgy) with a deeper tone, the vocals are crisp, clear, at times monotone and robotic (in a good way, the music calls for it), and a little otherworldly.
Commencement has its share of excellent tracks. ‘Mansion World’ has a drum intro that sounds extremely similar to Tom Petty’s ‘Don’t Come Around Here No More’, and this beat carries on to the fuzzy guitars and backing synths. The song simply soars, with singer Elijah going on about urantia girls and how a “slave becomes a master”. You almost feel like you’re taking off into space.
“She Likes Big Words” is definitely the most fun song here and a nice break from what is a primarily slow and heavy (loose term) album, and the closest Deadsy comes to replicating the 80s new wave sound. It’s an upbeat song that would not sound out of place on a Duran Duran CD, save for the fuzzy guitars again.
The album has no problem alternating between rockers (‘Key to Gramercy Park’), gorgeous pop/rock ballads (‘Brand New Love’, a cover of a Sebadoh song), and dirgey, mopey songs dragged through the mud that sound bizarrely depressing and downbeat (‘Lake Waramaug’), all while maintaining the band’s signature sound.
As I mentioned, the lyrics have plenty of big words, and bizarre and obscure references. The band is not all doom and gloom (as mentioned, She Likes Big Words is a ray of sunlight, on top of the Brian Eno sampling ‘Winners’), and there are plenty of cute references to things like Star Wars and Friday the 13th (chi-chi-chi-ka-ka-ka makes an appearance on the title track).
Where the album falters is its length. This is one overlong album, and it needed a decent trimming as there are a good number of filler tracks (‘Seagulls’ for example, which just drones and is not catchy in the least). The album also includes a cover of Rush’s ‘Tom Sawyer’, which sounds extremely similar to the original except done in Deadsy’s dark new wave style. It sounds more like the soundtrack to an 80s apocalyptic robot movie, and is as a result darker than the original. It’s not bad, but would’ve worked better as a b-side, especially considering there’s already another cover on the album.
Aside from its overly long playtime (and since some songs are extremely slow, it can be a tough listen for the impatient listener), Commencement is a well crafted, at times catchy, and overall clever album. It sounds very and distinctively retro, but it has a modern touch to it. It’s not for everyone, but if there’s anyone who wants to take a trip back to the Reagan era under the guise of some sort of weird and colorful institution (or Cher’s son), definitely give this one a whirl.