The Death Set: Rad Warehouses Bad Neighborhoods
The Death Set, Baltimore’s favorite Australian spazz-punk transplant twosome, has undergone some changes since To, its 2006 irresistible, sample-happy EP. One half of the dynamic duo, Beau Velasco, has since left the band to pursue other interests, and he’s been replaced by the capable chops of Ecstatic Sunshine guitarist Matt Papich. Not surprisingly, Death Set has stuck to its crowd-pleasing formula—two-minute pop songs featuring double-tracked falsetto vocals, samples from late-night infomercials, clubby drum machine beats, video-game bleeps and bloops, and a special brand of frenetic positivity rarely seen in punk. While Rad Warehouses Bad Neighbourhoods, an EP combining new tracks with a handful of remixes and rarities, lacks an obvious, hooky hit like the group’s earlier “Negative Thinking,” the band is clearly moving its formula forward. "Collision” is built around a ping-ponging MIDI beep, as elfin guitarist/vocalist Johnny Siera chants fractured feel-good mottoes like “One for all for everyone/ Don’t know where, I gotta run.”
“Impossible” also possesses the cheerily demonic mojo of the Death Set’s earlier material, with the made-to-be-screamed chorus “You’re impossible!,” and “Zombie” is built around a rollicking riff and chock-full of spoken-word samples from zombie flicks, artfully arranged midsong. (The track also includes one of the most satisfying examples ever recorded of the band’s trademark “waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”) The second half of the EP drags slightly, despite remixes of “Impossible” and “Distressed” by Dan Deacon and Bonde Do Role, respectively. “Distressed by Late Night Television” is a new, slower-sounding version of earlier track “Distressed,” and on this one, Siera’s distinctive vocals are dialed up so you can understand what he’s singing without a cheat sheet. Still, despite a weak back end, Rad Warehouses Bad Neighbourhoods is a must-have for anyone interested in Baltimore’s art-punk warehouse rock, the first pressing made even more appealing by the inclusion of a killer silkscreened flag designed by Nolen Strals of Double Dagger/Post Typography fame.
Corrections 6/27/2007: The track "Distressed by Late Night Television" is not a new recording, but a remastered version of an old one, and while Beau Velasco is not playing live with the band currently, he did play on the new EP and he's still involved with the band. City Paper regrets the errors.