Bass Drum of Death
John Barrett has been releasing music under the Bass Drum of Death moniker for ten years, and recently he moved on from Oxford, Mississippi, to New York, writing songs with new depth along the way. “Failing Up” is how he describes his musical progress in one song off the new album Just Business, a 1-2-3-go punk-pop gem in the Buzzcocks vein with a nice little bend in the tempo, as if you just got zapped by lightning.
“Heavy” pulls back the sheet and reveals a clockwork gospel machine, driven by heavenly harmonies, handclaps, and sparse electric guitar. Here, as throughout, Barrett’s voice jumps from a snarl to that of an impassioned rock and roll evangelist. “Too High” leaps right into the spotlight, not so much showing a desire to blow the whole apparatus back to the stone age as giving it a polish and a pointier edge—the sort of thing Spoon has managed to do record after record.
“Just Business” takes on more of a UK swagger, bringing the noise via a wall of fuzz and sneering, hedonistic vocals somewhere in the realm of mid-period Jesus and Mary Chain—but this crew has much more energy buckling under their songs. The constant buzz is pure MC5, and while Barrett is no Tyner (simply not possible), it still merits respect. Bass Drum of Death even pull off a skinny-tie power pop number in the form of “I Thought I Told You,” with a soaring bubble-gum chorus and one-note Ramones-friendly bruddahood.
The main thing to complain about, though, is that Barrett’s grasp of sonics is too on the nose; his ability to leap from genre to genre (a bit of Only Ones pub-punk here, a bit Interpol-esque grandiose post-punk there) leaves you flustered. But faulting a guy for recasting his favorite sounds on his own record seems like nitpicking.