Rock After Death

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13



    "LOVE CAN BE So Mean,” the opening cut from Sebastien Grainger’s new solo album is a greasy, glammy pledge of romantic fidelity that sounds like Pulp’s “Disco 2000” doused in Pennzoil and metallic glitter. Could all this clatter really be coming from the same asymmetrically coiffed dude who used to whack the drums for Canadian dance-punk duo Death From Above 1979? And if so, how did he end up in this 21st-century T. Rex fever dream? Good question. After the esteemed DFA1979 dissolved in 2006, Grainger’s approach to making music began to resemble something like a Zen koan: He knew not the jams he wanted to make, only the jams he did not want to make. “I was specifically trying to avoid things that were happening in ‘cool’ music,” says Grainger over the phone from his home in Toronto. “And I listen to a lot of cool music, but I feel like most of it is super redundant and I tried to avoid those traps.”

    Traps such as...? “I don’t want to name specifics,” he says, pausing for about a nanosecond before changing his mind. “Well, yes I do.The whole idea of dance rock, or dance punk or whatever it is—I think it’s taken so literally.

    You want to play that exact same beat over and over again? Fuck man, write a mosh part instead. Fuck this nightclub shit.” And while the man’s solo debut Sebastien Grainger & the Mountains isn’t brimming with floor-punchable breakdowns, it’s still heavy on serrated power chords, glammed-up vocal vamps and more than a few metal-inspired guitar solos, each worth its respective weight in Aquanet. It’s one of those precious rock albums that, during its strongest moments, feels as cocky as it does sincere.

    Much of that comes across in Grainger’s vocals. On “By Cover Of Night (Fire Fight),” he mutters: “I was knocked down, she was knocked up.We went downtown, we got fucked up...” It’s a tacky lyric on paper, but coming off Grainger’s lips amidst a slew of grimy riffage and a strutting drumbeat, it feels like true rock ‘n’ roll romance.

    “When we made the Death From Above records, I realized that they weren’t songs until there were vocals,” says Grainger. “That’s when the song was written. So I approached this record in a similar way. As I was writing the music, I realized there was some serious shit that could be happening, vocally. For me, the vocals are what this record is all about. I feel that they’re the most ambitious thing on here.” He sounds particularly ambitious on “(Are There) Ways to Come Home?”—and not just on account of the song title’s parenthesis abuse. “Will shame drive you home?” Grainger wonders plaintively as the song begins, grafting acoustic Bowie strums to a four-on-the-floor kick pattern.

    “Will fame make you whole?” After delivering that fortune-cookie couplet, the song builds and billows, climaxing in a throatsearing screech—one that nearly eclipses the Ronnie James Dio frequency that only dogs and 1980s babies can hear. The album itself ends with a different kind of exclamation point—a preening electro-dance cut called “Renegade Silence.”

    Out go Grainger’s buzzsaw guitars. In come the shimmering hi-hats, the loose handclaps and the oodles of analog keyboard sizzle, all thanks to a guest appearance from The Rhythm Method.Who’s the Rhythm Method? That would be Grainger.

    It’s the alias he uses to craft dance tracks, presumably for the nightclubs he dissed earlier in our conversation. “I always want there to be a structure, a journey and a payoff,” he insists. But for a man who relies on so many self-imposed rules to guide the shape of his output, Grainger seems wise for breaking them every chance he gets. -- Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains Dec. 3, Mercury Lounge, 217 E. Houston St. (at Essex St.), 212-260-4700; 7:30, $12.