Review Summary: Your romantic rights are all that you got.
You know, ever since Death From Above 1979 reformed back in 2011, I have been waiting for them to crash and burn spectacularly. I haven’t done this sat in a secret underground missile silo, stroking a white cat while I maliciously cackle at the prospect. No, the reason why I envisage such an unfortunate scenario is because the Toronto-based duo have it all stacked against them. They mounted these odds against themselves in all truth – creating one of the greatest post-punk albums of all-time in 2004 and then calling it quits right before any real momentum could ensue. You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
’s fusion of disco and noise-rock, with slinky, sleazy rhythms made the album a work of unfettered genius. It was like a gift from the Gods – word-of-mouth spreading like wildfire over a sound that was massive and raw, yet equally melodious and accessible in nature. Hell, even DFA’s decision to be a two-piece bass and drums outfit was a very uncommon thing at the time. The point I’m making here is that You're a Woman, I'm a Machine
was lightning in a bottle, and when the band came back with a brand-new album in 2014, it was obvious Death From Above had missed their boat to be the innovators of a sound that was [at the time] well into its fruition period.
The thing is, testament to Jesse and Sebastien’s talents, the band have not gone up in flames since getting back together. However, it’s undeniable that their return has dimmed a scintillating legacy in exchange for a few solid albums. All three of their albums since their return have been fun chapters, but it’s hard to overlook the fact every proceeding album sets a precedent for prosaic sounds done much better elsewhere. One of the most distracting aspects being nursed into their sound is the odd Muse worship, which was gently dabbled in for Outrage! Is Now
but goes the whole hog here. Indeed, Is 4 Lovers
needlessly brings this off-putting appropriation into the equation, further disconnecting the band from their main qualities. Gone are the scorching post-punk riffs and Sebastien’s sincere vocal takes; Is 4 Lovers
offers only generic mid-tempo alt-rock riffs and these really distracting, almost disingenuous vocal approaches. Seldom do we hear our singer’s once natural voice, instead opting for a style that combines Matt Bellamy’s baritone croons with aspects of Mike Kerr’s approach in Royal Blood. This, of course, is all dependant on where the mood takes them: if DFA wants to emote in the slower sections of their songs, like the outro to “One + One”, or the entirety of “Love Letter” and “No War”, it’s here where Sebastien enters Bellamy mode; if they want to support the punctuated alt-rock grooves of “Free Animal” or “Totally Wiped Out”, we get the cool-guy swagger Kerr is so well known for. Case in point: it’s rare we hear vocals comported naturally.
While nowhere near as apparent as it is in the vocal department, the instrumental work here feels achingly derivative in execution. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for the latter half of the record mixing things up sonically, this would have been a pretty dour experience to sit through. Essentially, the last third of the record deviates away from their trademark distorted-dance music in favour of crisp synths and thudding basslines. The best track on Is 4 Lovers
by a landslide is the glitchy synth-funk of “Glass Homes”, with its grandiose swells, hissing maracas, and melancholic harmonies. It’s the first time on the album where it feels like the band are progressing their sound organically. “Love Letter” and “Mean Streets” are much more experimental in nature – synth-heavy, albeit they don’t quite reach the same glorious heights of “Glass Homes”. Both tracks base their sound around this electronic-ballad function, but they come across like dated Tame Impala impressions than songs made up of ideas that support their own ends. Still, the experimentation is very much needed after the autopilot rock riffs we get from the first half of the album.
I may have been pre-empting a blaze of burning destruction from their initial return, and the subsequent albums that followed, and been left wrong. However, Is 4 Lovers
doesn’t totally debunk my initial predictions; Death From Above’s decline seems to be a more gradual one. Instead of falling off a cliff, they appear to be removing a piece of themselves with every release – which will eventually lead to the band being a hollow husk if they continue down this path. Is 4 Lovers
isn’t a bad album, it just lacks that much-needed energy and purpose. A lot of the songs here feel like they’re going through the motions. And the biggest issue I have with DFA in 2021, if you haven’t already gathered by now, is Sebastien’s imitative vocals. The music here isn’t anything special, but any genuine, worthwhile moments tend to get buried by a vocal distraction that didn’t need to be there to begin with.