Today, RVA postpunk quintet Dead Fame unleashes its long-awaited new EP, Vicious Design, upon this city and the world at large. It’s been over two years since the release of their previous EP, Frontiers, and the arrival of this 30-minute slab of vinyl is surely a relief for the group’s fans.
Today, RVA postpunk quintet Dead Fame unleashes its long-awaited new EP, Vicious Design, upon this city and the world at large. It’s been over two years since the release of their previous EP, Frontiers, and the arrival of this 30-minute slab of vinyl is surely a relief for the group’s fans. Their dark, mysterious (dare we say goth?) musical style draws a great deal of influence from the 80s New Wave scene, and that influence is reflected in Vicious Design‘s format. Rather than delivering a full serving of new tunes, Dead Fame have split this EP between a side of new material and a side of remixes–a very 80s New Wave thing to do.
Side one contains four new songs, including “My Body, My Fool,” which has been floating around the internet for a while now. As the oldest track, it’s unsurprising that this song is closest in sound to the ominous gloom of Frontiers, with singer Michael Means recalling the baritone desperation of Ian Curtis or The Sound’s Adrian Borland in his vocal tones. Meanwhile, the EP’s newer original tunes show a greater emphasis on melody. The still-dark yet strangely upbeat opener, “Joan Crawford,” features the sort of high, melodic bass lines that have long been the signature of New Order’s Peter Hook (which might seem like a lazy comparison in this case, but sometimes the easiest comparison to make is also the most accurate).
Out of everything Vicious Design has to offer, I’m most impressed with “Girl Undone,” a song driven by the steady ticking of a programmed woodblock percussion sound, which slowly gives way to a brilliant melodic chorus in which Christopher DeNitto’s keyboard stabs and KC Byrnes’s melodic guitar riffing play perfect counterpoint to Means’s pleading vocals. The song concludes with a soaring crescendo that is emotionally evocative enough to make the listener completely forget their surroundings for the moment. This is where we see what Dead Fame are truly capable of–more like this, please! “Lift” ends side A with more Hooky-style basslines and a driving rhythm that makes me think of U2 back when they were still super-earnest longhairs with gig bags full of delay pedals. To avoid misconceptions, this is a compliment.
Side two forgoes another helping of original material to give us three different remixes of “My Body, My Fool,” with varying results. Back in the 80s, when many of the bands Dead Fame are clearly drawing inspiration from were most active, it was common for UK indie bands to release 12 inch singles featuring extended dance mixes of their hits (see New Order’s Substance, The Cure’s Mixed Up, and Duran Duran’s Night Versions for plentiful evidence of this phenomenon). Due to relatively primitive studio technology, a lot of those mixes just sounded like drawn-out versions of the original songs. DJ Nightstalker’s remix of “My Body, My Fool” is right in line with this approach, though it distinguishes itself with a dramatic synth drop about a minute away from the end of the track. This gives an otherwise-downbeat postpunk tune potential to be a certified dance floor banger, which is the ultimate goal of any remix like this.
The fact that Xiu Xiu leader Jamie Stewart also supplies a remix here is most likely to attract the attention of new listeners. However, if you’re familiar with Xiu Xiu’s overall aesthetic, I doubt it’s much of a surprise to learn that Stewart’s remix almost seems like a prank. Rather than extending or augmenting the song, he’s done a quite literal remix in which he boosted the echo on everything, cranked the treble, and drowned the low-end in murk. The end result sounds like Dead Fame are practicing in one corner of a huge empty warehouse space with high, echoing ceilings, and you’re sitting 100 feet across the room from them listening to their music echo from the rafters. This is a neat trick, I suppose, but hardly lends itself to repeat plays. Finally, Double Duchess’s remix has a more modern sensibility, in that it completely cuts up and rearranges “My Body, My Fool” into something resembling an EDM/techno track. It doesn’t sound much like the rest of the album, but it’s cool if you’re into this sort of thing. And Dead Fame definitely deserve props for attempting to integrate their rock-based sound into the modern world of electronic music. In the end, though, I would expect most people to play the first side of this record a lot more often than the second.
Stream Vicious Design in full below:
Vicious Design is currently available on vinyl and as a digital download, and can be ordered from Dead Fame’s Bandcamp page. Mp3s can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon, or streamed on Spotify. The vinyl version is available at local record stores, including Steady Sounds, and can be purchased at the official record release party, taking place at Balliceaux on Saturday, May 3. Show starts at 10 PM, admission is $5. For more info, click here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1403357383270211