After 23 years, the Dead C still have the capacity to rock. It’s a skill they only unveil rarely, preferring to lull us into a sense of calm through protracted spells of droning formlessness before unleashing walls of caterwauling guitars, howled/mumbled vocals, and driving drum beats that actual fall in semi-repetitive patterns. If they’re going to rock, you’re going to have to earn it by surviving and untangling the meanings behind all the undifferentiated space. And even then, the rock may never actually come, depending on where Messrs. Russell, Morley, and Yeats feel like going. But for Secret Earth they’ve decided to streamline the process, or, in reality, collapse it down.
The four songs that make up this record could all be, to varying degrees, classified as rock songs. None of them have any recognizable form; there are no verses or choruses; there is nothing even remotely resembling riffs, licks, or melodies; the average song length is a hair over 11 minutes, with the requisite meandering; a few of the songs just cut off without warning; and the recording quality makes a wet cardboard box sound spacious and lively. But in hands of the Dead C, none of these are negatives, and rock this is, nonetheless. They all have vocals, even if those vocals consist of atonal mumblings of completely indecipherable, fuzzed out lyrics that sound like a truly disaffected Jandek, or Stephen Malkmus overdosing on Valium. Yeats’s drumbeats are generally propulsive and regular (if occasionally a bit ramshackle), to the point where you can actually bob your head to them in a consistent way. He even brings out sleigh bells on “Plains.” And Morley and Russell occasionally strum their axes in the same meter as Yeats’s beats, allowing the songs to build to recognizable climaxes (when they’re not exploring the possibilities of the upper frequencies of feedback). Again, see “Plains,” which is probably the closest this trio gets to Jimi Hendrix, or even just the Stooges. Morley’s singing is almost melodic, singing what are almost verses, in a way that almost harmonizes with the waves of feedback drones behind him that almost outline chord changes, while Yeats outlines a more than almost rock drum beat. Around the seven-minute mark, all three of them actually lock together and wrench the song into the almost stratosphere in a way that is utterly satisfying.
The other interesting aspect of their rock or almost rock is hearing their near confluences with the catchier stateside noise/rock bands. This is particularly evident in “Stations,” which begins with the same kind of opium-den droning pseudo-riffage that is all over the Magik Markers’ Boss and Religius Knives’ The Door, before it nearly picks up the pace and nearly touches on the high-energy effervescence of Times New Viking. While these similarities are probably just coincidental, they do demonstrate the strange paths of influence throughout the noise scene. This record is described by Ba Da Bing as sounding as if it were recorded between Eusa Kills and Harsh 70s Reality, both albums that the aforementioned bands are surely aware of and influenced by, so it’s possible that the Dead C are revisiting that sound partially through the lens of these other bands’ interpretations. This is mere speculation – I have heard nothing that would actually substantiate these claims – but it’s fascinating to think about.
All of these qualifiers – the almosts, nears, pseudos, and approximates – are significant. And that isn’t meant to sound the least bit pejorative. It is extremely difficult to conceive of the Dead C actually inhabiting any “normal” musical style. That they would choose to approach one requires massive amounts of qualification, contextualization and redefinition. It would, in fact, be more significant if I were able to call them a rock group without qualifiers, because it would mean that they would have normalized their sound to the point of being uninteresting. And Secret Earth is hardly uninteresting.