For as popular as dance-punk was in the early-to-mid-’00s, the major bands from that time—a crop that included Yeah Yeah Yeahs, !!!, The Rapture, and Liars, to name a few—very quickly evolved their sounds beyond sharp guitar bursts, staticky keyboards, and manic tempos. In hindsight, this progression can be seen as a survival mechanism more than anything. The intrinsic volatility of this particular strain of dance-punk generated significant instability. In fact, one of the genre’s leading acts, Death From Above 1979, imploded after just one full-length, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. Perhaps that’s why The Physical World—the group’s second full-length and first in a decade—feels like it has unfinished business to take care of. The title track is corrugated robo-punk with an undercurrent of synthesizer anarchy, the surprisingly poppy “Gemini” boasts haywire keyboard-mewling paired with grimy post-punk distortion, and “Government Trash” is precarious post-hardcore chaos wrapped in scraggly fuzz. “Cheap Talk,” meanwhile, conjures both The Rapture’s percussive euphoria and The Von Bondies’ garage scuzz.
Still, it’s gratifying to hear that for the most part, Death From Above 1979 isn’t trying to recapture the past on The Physical World. Thanks to production from D. Sardy (LCD Soundsystem, Wolfmother, Oasis), the LP is far heavier than You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. The punishing “Right On, Frankenstein!” sounds exactly like turbocharged Queens Of The Stone Age, while “Virgins” is a bluesy classic rock strut that hews closer to Jack White than anything else. “White Is Red” even balances sludgy-sounding guitars and a dull noise buzz with a restless narrative inspired by the Springsteen school of cars and girls. With The Physical World, Death From Above 1979 both embraces its dance-punk roots and transcends them.