Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bangin' on the Bass Drum of Death

In an age where the quality of a band is so many times measured by the number of heads rounding out its lineup, there are few groups that find the strength to soldier on in the true rock fashion of the DIY ethic. Gone are the days of the revered power-trios that blasted out tunes that sounded like full-scale warfare only to shock us to our cores when we realized it was only two or three guys. The reign of bands like Rush and Cream ended long ago, and although they sit forever atop the hill of everything that classic rock and heavy metal is based on, there have only been temporary stop-gaps (like those with The White Stripes and The Kills) where the smaller rock unit has taken the power back.
Yet new heroes are rising every day, and among these are the duo-rockers of Bass Drum of Death, an alternative/grunge machine from the Deep South that's dirtying up the clean and polished pop of the current decade. A project that started as a solo outlet for lead vocalist/guitarist John Barrett, Bass Drum soon started gaining steam and it was time to find a more permanent seat on the drums. Enter Colin Sneed, the new gut-buster behind the kit letting loose in blistering roughness as Barrett throws back riff after riff like whiskey shots on his guitar. A two-man team set to take over the alternative underground, Bass Drum of Death are more than what they seem upon first glance; the group moves uncomfortably away from the Black Keys comparison.
And I'm inclined to agree. The two-man comparison aside, Bass Drum's serrated alternative/grunge sound does little to stir a thought of the Black Keys' blues-punk notes. In fact, the more I listen to them, I think more of very early White Stripes and the gritty grunge of Green River and Mudhoney. Finding a small, albeit grungy, abode in late 80s' grunge mixed with early 90s' garage-punk, Bass Drum carve out a niche all their own among the new alternative powers taking flight.     
Songs like "Heart Attack Kid" and "Get Found" from their most recent effort GB City solidify just what these grunge rockers are about. The riff on "Heart Attack Kid" is simple, repetitive, and hypnotic in the best ways. As Barrett's voice bleeds through the speakers backed by Sneed's head pounding drums, Bass Drum prove themselves a force to be reckoned with. Vocally, it sounds to me as if Barrett is using a butterfly-mic (like Jack White has done so many times), but maybe it's just me. Whatever it is, by the time he reaches the splintering solo, it sound like his guitar is screaming for release, and man does he give it. The attitude that Barrett and Sneed let loose on "Heart Attack Kid" make it one of the must-hear tracks from the album.
Yet even among the grunged-out tuneful tracks of "Heart Attack Kid" and the equally riveting "Young Pros" (a song that serves only to further Bass Drum's party atmosphere, though only in the best way) sits "Get Found," a track that sticks out like a black thorn from a blood-red rose. Clearly I'm not the only one with this opinion, though, as Bass Drum opted to make "Get Found" the center track for their first music video, and performed the song live on The Daily Habit. What strikes me watching the live performance are the movements of the two rockers up on stage: Sneed goes at his kit with the look of controlled fury on his face, and Barrett himself seems just to hide everything, literally. Hair hanging down like a new-age Kurt Cobain, all of my attention is drawn to Barrett's right hand, shredding away on his light blue axe. Truly Cobain would have found Bass Drum to his liking, hovering mesmerizingly between garage-rock sneer and pop-song dynamics.
But it's the power that emanates from Barrett and Sneed that truly make up their sound. I've always been of the opinion that I don't give a fuck how many people make up the band so long as the music rocks hard. Here, Bass Drum of Death have succeeded in letting loose a serrated album with teeth enough to rip you apart and still leave you wanting more. Their music may be muddy and dirty, gritty and grunged-out, but Bass Drum know what their doing, and their rewriting all the rules on what alternative-rock and grunge sound like with every performance. Keep your ears peeled for these guys, and if they start to bleed, then you know something awesomely sick is just over the horizon.

Sounds Like: The White Stripes, Middle Class Rut, Green River, Mudhoney

Key Tracks from GB City: "Get Found," "Heart Attack Kid," "Young Pros"

Check out Bass Drum of Death more at: and!/pages/BASS-DRUM-OF-DEATH/295269142164

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