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The Dead C - DR503 / Eusa Kills

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Artist: The Dead C

Album: DR503 / Eusa Kills

Label: Ba Da Bing / Jagjaguwar

Review date: Jan. 28, 2009

Prior to the release of their career retrospective Vain, Erudite and Stupid in 2005, I hadn’t heard any pre-Harsh Seventies Reality material from the Dead C. My college radio station didn’t have the records, I’m lazy on the downloading tip, and copies of their first two albums, DR503 and Eusa Kills, weren’t crowding any store shelves, used or new. The compilation provided an eye-opening context for the band’s work: namely, they’ve barely changed at all over their run. There have been certain detours, but setting aside a slight fidelity increase, you could probably fool me into thinking that their entire output was recorded in several lengthy, mind-blowing sessions. I’ve never met a Dead C fan that negged on any period of their work, a fact that their consistency goes a long way toward explaining.

This isn’t to say that every piece of tape recorded has been genius, or that it’s impossible for one to single out a favorite Dead C record. However, I think those judgments have more to do with listener preferences than any objective differences in the band’s approach. I gravitate towards The White House, but that might be because I get down more with never-ending psych jams than mindfuckery like Future Artists, and those two records just happen to tilt toward those two poles. The richness of the band’s concept – conflating punk and psychedelic release through basement noise-crust – allows them indulgences and demands ceaseless exploration; fortunately, 20 years later, they’ve stayed true to the idea, and the creative well still hasn’t run dry. Moreover, unlike brothers-in-arms Sonic Youth, they haven’t abandoned punk rock restlessness for classic rock maturity. Rather than “advance” or “progress” or “develop the sound” or “take huge steps forward,” the Dead C remain in the thick of the fight. It’s a huge middle finger to an industry that sporadically pays attention, to “career,” to losing the plot as one gets older, to not trusting one’s instincts.

So, early Dead C material is just as essential as anything they’ve released, and not only for historical value. After getting a taste of the early stuff on Vain, it’s a huge pleasure to hear these releases in their entirety, newly collected on two beautifully packaged vinyl reissues. Overall, these albums and EPs might be more song-oriented than what followed, but they’re undoubtedly of the same minds and spirits.

DR503, released on Flying Nun in 1988, splits its time between borderline-pleasant drug-noise-pop like “Speed Kills,” rock throwdowns like “Max Harris,” and curveballs like “Mutterline.” As much as DR503 keeps the listener guessing, the release that it’s packaged with, The Sun Stabbed EP, hits more extremes than any of the four releases presented here. “Crazy I Know” is lighter than air, a reminder that the Dead C did share a label with pop bands. Two tracks later, “Bad Politics” provides a straightforward punk rush, probably the most “rock” track that the band has recorded. On the flip side, “Sun Stabbed” and “Three Years” manage to hit all these bases and more, lurching from driving rock to pure noise to hazily chiming guitar noodlings.

Two years later, Eusa Kills tipped the scales almost entirely in the rock direction; excepting the pitch-black rushes of “Maggot” and “I Was Here,” the album lives up to its reputation as the group’s most accessible album – accessible being, of course, a relative term. Though undeniably their own, one might mistake some of these tracks for SY or Labradford demos. Their sonic signifiers complicate that reading, and the gobsmacking cover of Tyrannosaurus Rex’s “Children of the Revolution,” breaks it completely. Titled “Children,” it’s a flat-out perfect moment, full of humor and knowledge. On the one hand, it’s a wink towards the record geeks; on the other, proof of the Dead C’s dominance – no chance in hell could your basement rock group sound as awesome as this. The Helen Said This EP completes the package with the title track, a deep cut of beautiful space-rock, complemented by “Bury (Refutatio Omnium Haeresium),” one of the group’s most impenetrable workouts.

Few groups in the underground are revered as much as the Dead C, and these reissues underline why. Right out of the gate, they sounded like no one else, and 20 years later, they still haven’t lost the chops, smarts and balls that are on display here.

By Brad LaBonte

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