Review Summary: L.A. alt rock outfit Dead Sara trade their basement for the studio and end up producing the sort of debut album that all new and upcoming bands should aspire for.
So here’s a band which will never have to weigh in on the loudness wars: Dead Sara, an alt rock four-piece based out of L.A., probably come loud enough as is. Their self-titled debut, a patchwork of eleven power-packed tracks that clocks just over forty minutes long, is buttressed by thickly amplified sheet metal riffs, jackhammer percussion, thundering drums, and has smatterings of white noise for girders. The resulting concoction is a blistering, industrial-grade monster that always seems to be just a couple of decibels away from perforating a few eardrums.
Part of all that destructive power comes from how tightly coiled its four musicians sound when playing together. Singer Emily Armstrong, lead guitarist Siouxsie Medley, bassist Chris Null, and drummer Sean Friday sound like they’ve been jamming in the same basement for years. Accordingly, everything – from the deep bass throttle that introduces album opener “Whispers and Ashes” to the crashing drummerese bombast that heralds the arrival of the bridge for “Monumental Holiday” – comes across as architecturally sound. But while Null and Friday do a fantastic job of knitting the whole thing together, it’s their two female compatriots that are the real stars of the show. Guitarist Siouxsie Medley spends the entire album showing us all how she can make puns out of her last name by shuffling through a ridiculous amount of guitar moods that range from atmospheric, The Edge-esque guitar noodling to primal hollow-point riffs. Meanwhile, Armstrong proves herself a frontman capable of flipping through several personalities at once, sometimes in the space of a single song: “Why you testing my patience?” she demands at the beginning of “Test on My Patience”; moments later she’s reduced to howling, “I’m in love, I’m in love, no I’m not/Oh my God – I’m a liar I can taste it.” But the slow burners find her more reticent: “So lay down beside/My nervous stinking body,” she pleads on “Dear Love”, her claim to being nasally unpalatable acting as a foil for her true intentions.
Despite the sonic barrage, which often acts as a dead giveaway when it comes to categorizing a band’s point of origin, trying to shoehorn Dead Sara into a particular genre can be a bit troublesome, mainly as the four-piece incorporate a vast spectrum of influences onto their auditory palette. There’s a light element of southern rock behind all those riffs, which have a habit of cutting out just as they’re about to go stale – think Death From Above 1979, but if the Kings of Leon had been the ones performing their songs instead – plus some blues, folk, and a dash of power metal. Complicating matters further is Armstrong herself, who freely vacillates between being Michelle Branch on a particularly melancholy Tuesday afternoon to the unhinged ferocity of Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge
-era Gerard Way. Yet such debate is rendered of secondary importance in the face of the band’s uncanny ability at crafting arena-sized rockers. There are at least three candidates for the anthem-of-the-spring title here, with explosive lead single “Weatherman” leading the charge. Lyrically, the band insist that the song is about “creating your own weather per se in standing up for what you believe in”, but I’m inclined to disagree, noting instead that the song features just the right amount of slogans to have a horde of teenagers rallying around its sufficiently inflammatory cause (“Go for the kill!”; “Cause no one else cares!”; “I’ll sing as the regret for all that un-American!”).
Then there’s “Monumental Holiday”, whose main riff is best described as the sound that one might hear if there was a giant wasp/flying lawnmower buzzing around your living room. Elsewhere, “Lemon Scent” features deliciously lofty vocals from Armstrong, with the key moment arriving when she delivers the tantalizing line, “This is the part – where it gets kinda personal”, which by the middle of the song morphs into, “This is the part – now it gets kinda sexual”, suggesting that the two are one and the same. Other equally pitch-perfect moments are scattered all over the record like tiny Easter eggs: the bridge of “We Are What You Say”, for instance, is practically begging
for a live clap-along, while bruised power ballads like “Face To Face” prove that even a rugged, untamed beauty like Armstrong can have her heart broken, with the tortured, self-affirming scream of “Here I am!” making the existential crisis at the core of Beyonce’s “I Was Here” seem woefully pallor in comparison.
On their very first studio outing, Dead Sara have created a record that people will be talking about for years to come; perhaps even on a scale that rivals other debuts of myth and legend such as Arcade Fire’s Funeral
and The Strokes’ Is This It
. When viewed through such a prism, the achievement seems all the more remarkable; hell, it’s almost as if the band have created the perfect debut through sheer force of will alone. Clearly, spring has well and truly arrived.