Unknowns — The Dead C (Grapefruit Record Club, 2020)
Hear, hear! A new Dead C LP? In true Pavlovian form, Marginal jowls floweth like the River Euphrates! After a momentary pause to sweep the slobber, we turn our ears to Unknowns the latest extended play from South Island stalwarts The Dead C issued by Grapefruit Record Club / Ba-Da-Bing.
5 tracks, pretty standard Dead C fare: murky vocals, overdriven and gentle phased guitars, aural sleight-of-hand. Now ya see me, now ya don’t, like. Unknowns is uncharacteristically short, clocking in at just under 30 minutes. For some groups, this would be a standard long playing release and ample time to get stuck in, but for The Dead C, the brevity (an’ we can do brevity here, in case ya couldn’t suss that out) feels harsh and the themes present in the recordings often seem inchoate.
Ultimately, two salient observations: first, the B-Side of the record is far and away superior. Not surprisingly, the two tunes on this side “Glitterness” and “The Field” are the longest and seemingly provide the group (or is it the listener) with the breathing space necessary to be taken in by the playing. Next, the listener is also treated by the fact that the physical album is pressed as a 45 RPM record. Naturally, given this listener’s aforementioned reservations about the length of the record, a nice slow down’ll do the trick. In doing so, a foreboding sense of drama returns and the result is surprisingly urgent, even as the tunes morph into something fucked up and sluggish. Surely, this is the apex of cavern punk.
Maybe it’s the aforementioned brevity, but Unknowns, as the title suggests, is through and through a record marked by a sense of provisionality and uncertainty. I do not wish to suggest that Dead C are incapable of playing short tunes — they have proven to be perfectly capable elsewhere in their oeuvre (to note a few, the opener of White House, “Voodoo Spell,” along with their poptunes “Power” and “Sky” *). Fans of the group will certainly gobble this up and find it mostly enjoyable, but in all, Unknowns is far from being a quintessential release by the group.
Existing fans of The Dead C, Morricone-heads on downers, and alarm clock enthusiasts take note.
* See also: Bruce Russell’s fantastic Visceral Realists cut with compatriot Luke Wood, using the 45 RPM single as a launching off point