Noise rock, garage rock, scuzz rock: call it what you will, the effort remains the same. Millenial twerps who continue to associate the fierceness and comic ingenuity of early punk acts with the amount of gain on their guitars. In reality, innovative and status-quo challenging punk music’s 21st century analogue is most likely to be found among boundary pushing electronic musicians, hip-hop artists, enthusiastic classicists that keep a piano price guide close, and freak folkies. The ethos of what we currently refer to as “punk rock” (something of an umbrella term for anyone making a little too much noise) has changed from something that was meant to challenge social mores into something definable by how hard it makes you bob your head. There is nothing wrong with this, and as an example of modern punk rock, Bass Drum of Death’s self-titled second album has its successes; it’s fun, breezy, and heavy on pop melodies. Bass Drum of Death also suffers from an unforgivable lack of energy, and generally sounds like forgotten mid-60s mod rock acts being filtered through cheap speakers.
“Fine Lies” has a soft cowpunk melody twirling around a rather sunny pop infrastructure, as well as a vocal repetition on the chorus that is sure to rouse even the most ardent of post-rockers. The song suffers a little from a lack of dynamics, chugging from verse to chorus to a sweet post-chorus bringdown and bridge (that reminds this reviewer of early Oingo Boingo) without any acknowledgement at all of the change. It’s all just way too monotone, and though the song itself is interesting the performance sounds bored. The same goes for the Joan Jett-esque “Shattered Me,” whose stupidly sweet guitar solos are the only thing to distinguish themselves from the song’s tonal opacity. “Shattered Me” seems like it could be a good song, and all it would have taken is a little more energy.
Bass Drum of Death is one of the most cosmically un-arousing releases I’ve encountered as a critic. It has about as much heart as the post-Strokes wave of UK garage acts that brought us The Fratellis. Bass Drum of Death does have a few instances of toeing outside the lines. “Faces of the Wind” has a competent vocal melody that reminds me of the Syd Barrett-inflicted demon pop of mid-aughts UK bands. “Face of the Wind” is just too damned slow for its own good, and just like the ironically titled (and hyper-extended by an unnecessary jam) “Such a Bore” you get the feeling that a perhaps competently written song has been let down immensely by its production. Much of Bass Drum of Death, especially opener “I Wanna Be Forgotten,” actually bears spiritual resemblance to Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie in the almost mock-punk nature of the songs’ deliveries; as though the hard edge is supposed to be taken as comic deceit. But with Bowie there was a clarity of intent that cut through the vaudeville bullshit, whereas with Bass Drum of Death you can’t help but wonder if they might have pushed things a little further, or taken them a little more seriously.
After spending the weekend with Bass Drum of Death, I reacquainted myself with GB City, and the biggest difference I could see is that on GB City the performances were, in a very literal sense, a lot clearer. A song like “Hear Attack Kid” may not be as melodically solvent as “Fine Lines” but it has the advantage of distinct, vibrant vocals – it has energy, and this makes it a little more listenable. There are obvious references to punk staples throught Bass Drum of Death; they obviously know their stuff. But Bass Drum of Death seem to have missed the part where The Clash successfully adapted to ska and post-punk without compromising their energy; the group seem to have missed large chunks of the garage rock revival movement and its eventual assimilation of new wave dynamics and lush production. The fact is, we have a storied history of punk and garage music to cherish and return to so that we really do not need a tone-for-tone revival. Bass Drum of Death need to come out of the basement, listen to a Black Lips album, and see where they might be able to fit themselves into the angry young scheme of things.