By Nick Stout
Artist: Bass Drum of Death
Album: Rip This
Released: Oct. 7, 2014
Label: Innovative Leisure
Mississippi garage-rock duo Bass Drum of Death have returned after last year’s self-titled L.P., with their third full-length release titled “Rip This.” This album finds the band steering its way toward a more mainstream audience by finding guidance in the power of simple, crunchy guitar sounds and vocal melodies found in 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll bands like KISS. It seems the band is aiming for a sound that can keep their old audience happy while also attracting fans of a tight-knit ’70s classic rock sound.
It is their first release to not feature the bands mastermind John Barrett playing all the instruments. This time touring drummer Colin Sneed played his own drum tracks. While the beats are still fairly simple, you can hear a more nuanced approach as a result of this. They also enlisted the help of UMO bassist Jacob Portrai, who produced the album at Prairie Sun Studios in California. All of these songs were written while on tour with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and you get a feeling of immediacy from this album.
The track “Everything’s The Same” finds the band recalling the sound of their first record, “GB City.” It almost sounds like it could be a B-Side from that record if there wasn’t a difference in the way it was recorded (that album was recorded on Garageband, whereas this was done in a studio). It’s also one of the few up-tempo numbers, making it one of the album’s highlights.
The song “Better Days” finds Barrett exploring the idea of taking his style and putting it in a softer, acoustic setting, but the excitement of hearing this artist try something new is ripped away when one realizes the guitar solo is still electric, and it doesn’t feel too different from anything else on the album besides a slower tempo and no drums. However, as a result, the lyrics become a greater focus. In the chorus Barrett delivers the lines: “All this time I was kept from better days,” with a background vocal response of, “and I don’t wanna be,” followed by, “to be with you.” Whatever the opposite of a love song is this is it.
Barrett jumps up to a falsetto part way through the lines: “Anytime you look you’ll see me trying, every time I look you’ll see me dyin’” on the deliberate chuggin’ rocker “Black Don’t Glow,” drawing comparisons to how the hook would be set up in a KISS song. He then reverses it by saying, “and I want to, if it feels so wrong now baby.” He then spouts out the line “I don’t need you, if black don’t glow.” These lyrics are left fairly abstract, but you get the feeling that the song’s protagonist is living on the edge and not turning back or compromising. Barrett’s falsetto is also deployed on other songs to highlight the chorus sections, like on opener “Electric.”
The lyrical themes of this album are quite cryptic. There is no room for love or anything that’s not tough. It’s all about the aggressive attitudes one would associate with a cold-blooded rock ‘n’ roll world. You can feel this aggression instrumentally when the sludgy low end of the guitar permeates around a haze of feedback that builds anticipation for a somewhat dissonant, yet melodic-biting guitar solo in “Sin Is In 10.”
This band is sticking to what they know and it is effective, but it might not be able to compete in an ever-growing garage-rock scene and all its branches. Garage-punk fans preferring faster tempos may not go for this record, or might not feel it to be driving, heavy or chaotic enough. It also doesn’t really bring anything out of the ordinary to the table. However, the band may succeed finding new fans that are seeking out a record that is a pastiche of classic ’70s rock ‘n’ roll sounds.
“Rip This” will be available October 7 via Innovative Leisure.