What's a band to do after it's split-up, gotten back together and dropped a comeback record? That's the dilemma facing Death From Above who, after ditching the "1979" from their name, seem to be rethinking their entire aesthetic.
The music Jesse F. Keeler and Sebastien Grainger made together spat in the face of careerism; musical brinkmanship, pushing the music and the players' abilities to the edge, was their raison d'etre. It made their break-up feel like the appropriate end. It was a minor miracle, then, that their decade-later followup, The Physical World, managed to recapture much of that urgency while pushing into new territory.
Outrage! Is Now jettisons that approach and finds the duo settling into a groove, literally. Despite its exclamation point-driven title, the BPMs are lower, the fidelity higher and groove supplants rhythm as the music's driving force. "Outrage, outrage, I'm all out of rage / maybe it's my age," sings (not yells) Grainger on the title track, seemingly acknowledging that the band had painted themselves into a corner and weren't terribly interested in finding a way out.
The slower and varying tempos create space, something that DFA's music rarely had in the past. Grainger and Keeler fill it with production flourishes that would previously have been buried in their sonic onslaught. Consequently, Outrage! Is Now is the first Death From Above record on which each song is immediately distinctive from the last. In that sense, it's the most cohesive thing they've done.
But, after an initially promising opening with "Nomad" and "Freeze Me," the record stalls, with the duo building songs off of unremarkable grooves and riffs that sound like castoffs from a Jack White solo album. The sense of spontaneity that accompanied their hard-driving rock is gone, replaced by songs that often feel overthought and overworked.
Stuck between a rock and hard place — keep doing what you're best at (even if your heart's not in it) or reinvent yourself — Death From Above chose the latter. It's a wise choice, particularly if the duo want to carve out a long-term career. Where DFA 2.0 works, such as when the album ends on a particularly strong three-song end note, it's a good look, but it's hard not to think about what's been lost in the process, especially when what's on offer doesn't quite pass muster. (Last Gang)