The two fists of Rock and Roll are Struggle and Simplicity. The quality of work in this field is almost always based on the personal struggle of the artists and the way that they make their personal feelings accessible through straightforward musical execution. Musically, you can trace that to Rock’s origins in the Blues, the act of getting out your “blues” and sharing your struggle in an act of catharsis that lets other people know that perhaps they aren’t alone in their trials. When the Blues combined this with the uplifting strength of Gospel, Rock and Roll became the act of punching your way up and out of a coffin in a sod-tossing self-exhumation from oppression. I should clarify that there is Good Music that is not simple and not about a personal struggle, you just can’t call it rock. For example, I’m not a Pink Floyd fan but I can respect the level of craft that goes into what they do. Nonetheless, their most revered work comes from a period of extreme prosperity and features extreme musical acuity and experimentation about abstract themes, and sorry, that’s not rock and roll, there’s the door to the incense-filled study where we keep Prog and Thank You For Playing.
So this is why Rock’s greatest innovators have always been the marginalized and the downtrodden. Rock and Roll melded jangly Irish string music (the Irish being long-suffering victims of history) with the Black traditions of gospel, blues and jazz, and I hope I don’t have to explain to you how shitty it was to be Black in the 50’s around the birth of the genre. So after creating something really incredible and powerful, it got appropriated by white people and lost its Black innovators. Same thing happened to Jazz, Blues, Soul and Disco. Sorry guys. The way that you feel when you hear your mom say “swag” is how many Black people feel when you show up to their musical genres.
Anyway, so innovation still comes from people with a rough-ass story to tell. Kurt Cobain, Joey Ramone and Jack White are all neurotic, obsessive chemical fires that no water could douse and they leave their mark on music with songs every beginner can play but only the truly unhinged can reinterpret and master. If you really want to hear something new, look for female voices in Rock and Roll and the fresh perspective they can offer as members of an exploited group. And that finally brings us to today’s subjects, Deap Vally.
Californian female rock duo Deap Vally play blues-rock that they joke makes them “The Black Stripes” or “The White Keys.” I was instantly transfixed. Most people apply the words “spare” or “stripped down” when you only use two instruments and a pair of voices. Behind the wheel of their stock car, Lindsey Troy (guitar, vocals) and Julie Edwards (Drums, backup) manage to make their sound four lanes wide and make everyone else look like they’re standing still. Magnificently applied dynamics and arresting pentatonic melodies are delivered with frissonating levels of grit and some sort of proprietary sonic pheromone delivery system that I hope they patent soon. When Gordon Ramsay tests new chefs he has them make a theoretically simple dish, an omelet. He reasons that if you cannot make something simple incredibly well then your big meals are just bluster. Deap Vally is The Perfect Omelet.
Some bands pass an orchestra of instruments between each other and couldn’t turn phrase if it was a steering wheel but Troy & Edwards fill every song with future tattoo ideas for those needing inspiration. The big single from the Get Deap EP, “Gonna Make My Own Money,” was the first track I heard, a magnificent door-kicking anthem about financial independence. The whole song is a chorus:
You say marry a rich man
Find a rich one if you can
Daddy, don’t you understand?
I’m gonna make my own money, gonna buy my own land
Hell yes. Delivered in a wailing pterodactyl voice shouting down the walls of a patriarchal Jericho, Gonna Make My Own Money is triple-distilled barrel-aged rage with no Coke to take the edge off. I hope that I live to hear my daughter blasting this from her room. I’ll even pretend to hate it so that she likes it more.
There’s some cognitive dissonance to “End of the World,” a grinding anti-war pro-love groove with breathy dual tracked vocals and instrumental sections that threaten to finish some ancient apocalypse ritual, “Lies” is absolute poison spit with a shotgun at an unfaithful lover. Both tracks could light a fedora on fire from fifty yards and send its owner back to Reddit with a scalp of scabs. The production gives one the sense that you’re in the cave with Medusa without a mirror and without a sword and the winds are wailing and she is about to put you in the Friendstone.
“Ain’t Fair” is back to being an incredible indictment of male privilege, using the most basic terms to say “Hey fuck you dude, you don’t have some god-given right to have whatever you want.” The sustained feats of trebly melody by Troy had me occasionally pushing my jaw closed from a dropped position, though it would inevitably fall back again. It’s really something to be able to write an incredibly cutting and angry song without running it at 200 beats per minute but Deap Vally correctly surmised that as with a good Chili, you have to let a song simmer and release a little extra flavor to trick your taste buds into a false sense of security before making one’s ears shoot steam from scalding heat.
Finally there’s the new single “Bad for my Body,” coming from the same mold as “Gonna Make My Own Money” it’s a total bad girl anthem that could be seen as fluffy compared to the content of their other tracks, save for the line “Mother if you only knew/but brother dear you did it too.” That bit shot out a grappling hook and swung the whole jam around the corner into Empowerment Anthem.
Their LP Sistrionix (God, what a pun) is out in October and Julian will have the full review for you then, but I couldn’t resist sharing the music equivalent of the perfect omelet.