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The Dead C, "Eusa Kills"

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cover imageThis 1989 album is most notable for being generally regarded as The Dead C’s "pop" album.  Also, a lot of people seem to rank it quite highly within the band’s discography.  I find both of those designations somewhat puzzling, however, as the only real concessions to conventional rock music are the stellar opener and a cacophonous, shambolic T. Rex cover.  Other than that, Eusa Kills is just a lot of messy, half-baked, and contrarian business-as-usual for The Dead C.  The band admittedly keeps most of the songs to pop song durations, but that is less of a structural and songcraft achievement than a decision to just fade out earlier than usual.  While Eusa Kills has its moments, it is far from The Dead C’s prime.

Flying Nun/Ba Da Bing/Jagjaguar

Notably, the lead-off song "Scary Nest" tends to get a lot of comparisons to early Sonic Youth, which seems a bit undeserved and off-the-mark for two reasons: 1.) early Sonic Youth were always much more arty and adventurous guitar-wise than anything in "Nest," and 2.) The Dead C are (and have always been) anything but derivative.  Maybe it sounds even less like a Dead C song than it does a Sonic Youth song though, as it is certainly uncharacteristically propulsive, urgent, and catchy: the drums play a consistent double-time beat, the guitars strum an actual satisfying chord progression, and there is even a hooky vocal melody.  The song itself could probably recall a vast array of other bands (good ones, even!), but the Sonic Youth tag has stuck primarily because of the lo-fi recording and the sputtering, chirping squalls of lead guitar.  There is nothing consciously arty about the noisy guitars though, as they share much more in common with a wild Neil Young performance than anything derived from Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham.  That "feral" aspect is what makes all the difference for me (it helps that it is enhanced by plenty of wordless vocal howls as well).  The Dead C were not trying to redefine guitar music or ape what was happening in NYC: they were just playing with the perfect balance of controlled songcraft and reckless abandon.  As a result, "Scary Nest" is a great song unlike anything else in The Dead C discography,

Of course, once The Dead C had proven that they could write a killer song that people might like, they immediately set out to prove that they can also write very messy, chaotic songs that are nearly impossible to like by design.  Eusa Kills is full of such pieces.  Sometimes they take the shape of a piece like "Glass Hole Pit," which sounds great and promising, then abruptly ends after a minute.  Other times, the band just noodles and mumbles for several minutes (“Bumtoe”) or unleashes a torrent of hookless guitar spew over a tom-heavy beat for 45 seconds, then stops ("Call Off Your Dogs").   Even the better, more fully formed pieces like "Phantom Power" dilute their better ideas with a lot of riffless, hookless, and melody-less guitar noise.  Admittedly, I love guitar noise and there are some cool moments strewn throughout Eusa, but the noise rarely seems to be in service of anything greater– it is mostly just something indulgent to tolerate until something interesting happens.

Thankfully, there are a few enjoyable pieces of varying quality besides "Scary Nest."  The best one is "Now I Fall," which buries an actual coherent song beneath some wonderfully warped, too-loud guitar.  The closing “Envelopment” is also quite good, combining a lazy, overdriven bass melody and ripples of clean guitar to pleasantly warm, sleepy, and druggy effect.  A few other pieces have their champions as well, but I do not know quite what to make of them.  The more perplexing of the two is a cover of T. Rex’s swaggering, anthemic "Children of the Revolution," which is reduced to a dissonant, smoldering, and distinctly non-anthemic wreckage.  I cannot figure out the motive at all: mockery, homage...neither?  I have no idea.  In any case, it is an enjoyable (if puzzling) detournement.  Later, there is a 7-minute piece entitled "Maggot" which presages some of The Dead C’s superior longform work to come.  Unfortunately, it is mostly just notable as a proto-version of better songs like "Love" and "Outside."  I certainly like the snare-roll drums and the miasma of deranged and strangled noises, but it never quite catches fire and features a fairly annoying cackling refrain.  So close to greatness, but just off the mark.  Alas.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think it is safe to say that Eusa Kills is merely an intermittently promising album by a band that would eventually get much better, but I do wonder what I would have thought of this album if I had heard it in its original time and context.  It is hard to imagine a more clear and defiant "fuck you" to the overproduced and image-driven world of '80s pop music than this, so it definitely deserves a place of honor for its sheer wrongness: this is an archetypal “against the grain” album.  However, it is also just the start of something better rather than a golden age unto itself-–willful ugliness and a hilariously bad attitude are great, but it took the band a few more years to perfect the balance between negation, deconstruction, art, and accessibility.  Though Eusa Kills is probably still canonical among Dead C albums, its unevenness and exasperating proportion of filler prevent it from truly ranking among their best work.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 March 2015 15:48  


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