Bass Drum of Death - GB City
Record Label: Fat Possum Records
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Though they perform as a duo of guitar and drums, Bass Drum of Death's album GB City was, according to their label Fat Possum, recorded entirely by guitarist/vocalist/songwriter John Barrett. Fat Possum claims he had naught more than "a drumset [sic], a guitar, a USB microphone, a computer and a shitload [sic] of talent." The blatant lo-fi sounds on the album stand out from the beginning. It's amateurish, and not always pleasurably. The album plays the cards of predictable garage rock lo-fi. Barrett's not alone in his leanings for fuzzed out, Stooges-inspired rock. Bands like Boston's Girlfriends are doing much of the same thing with the same approximate success, as their music is largely style over substance geared for hipster house parties.
Sure, you could argue that T. Rex was style over substance, and Marc Bolan's guitars take some presence here on GB City. But Bolan was genuinely a man of song who had a penchant for Chuck Berry and Syd Barrett. As he kicked off the glam rock movement with Electric Warrior in 1971, he filled the gap after the end of the '60s. Hippie culture and psychedelia had all but faded away, while the Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway ended in tragedy. Bolan's music became "the next big thing" in England as he became heir to the Beatles' pop success.
All that being said, Bass Drum of Death's brand of minimalist garage rock lacks a purpose other than (to quote Fat Possum yet again) "the soundtrack playing in your head when you're fucked up and walking home in the middle of the night." It's cheap, it's trashy, and it's disappointingly calculated. Despite the claim of his lack of professional recording equipment, you can tell Barrett made things sound deliberately "lo-fi." His vocals particularly suffer from his hubris in this respect, and too often does it become hard to hear what exactly he's singing about. Sometimes it's too much echo and reverb, and sometimes he lets the recording go too far into the red, effectively killing any melodies in these moments. The guitars suffer this too every now and then throughout the record.
Lyrically, Barrett struggles to find his own voice. That is, when you can make out what he's saying. This is never more apparent than on the overly sleazy "Velvet Itch." The lines "I got a velvet itch in my jeans / how can you scratch it?" border on corny. It's a borrowed idea executed with little personality, with a lifeless, mind-numbingly mundane guitar and drums riff that's been done to death already. We already have Mudhoney, we don't need another one.
It's too bad Barrett opted for his too-lo-for-lo-fi route while recording. There are moments that bear the fruit of the "shitload of talent" his label claims he has. For example, the title track's lead riff bounces an interesting melody, while "Young Pros" features some tongue in cheek backing vocals. If Barrett hadn't overblown nearly everything in the mix, his strengths for arranging and melody would be better heard. There's no doubt he'll continue to get by through sensationalized hype and the indie house party circuit, but unless he tries something different next time he records (hopefully in a studio, even if it is as dank and worn out as his lo-fi pretensions), he and his music will fade away once the next indie fad hits the market.
The ideas too borrowed, the sounds too familiar, the music too predictable, GB City sounds and feels too much like its influences. Until Barrett finds his voice among his idols, Bass Drum of Death is just another garage rock band in any number of hipster clubs across the country.
Would enjoy this if the production values were just a bit better. And I really don't dig this whole "bands without bassplayers" thing happening lately, having bass guitar would fill out the sound a ton.