Die! Die! Die! – This Is Not An Island Anymore
GARY STEEL raves like a lunatic about a group whose new album is a real shot in the arm just when we need it.
I’m very fussy about the kind of noise I throw at my ears, especially these days with tinnitus barking at my heels and threatening to overthrow my auditory system. But the thing is, I love noise. It just has to be the right kind of noise. It has to be good enough to be worth suffering for. Preferably, it has to sound a bit like Die! Die! Die!
Die! Die! Die! come from a long tradition of post-punk bands with a certain kind of attitude and flavour, and it’s one that has very specific roots in Aotearoa. It can be traced back to groups like Auckland’s late 1970s The Features and their Wellington counterpart, Shoes This High; Christchurch trio The Gordons and early 1980s bands like Wellington’s 1st XV and Auckland’s Alms For Children. Sure, there are overseas influences too but Die! Die! Die! have got to the stage where they’re really influencing themselves.
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Where punk groups like The Sex Pistols were essentially just noisying up rock’n’roll, some of the groups in their wake felt that their music should reflect the apocalyptic way they were feeling about the world. Hence, the introduction of dissonance and loads of feedback, unexpected noise irruptions and odd sonic textures, extreme dynamics and somewhat threatening use of minor keys and chord progressions.
This thread of New Zealand music never really went away but it took Die! Die! Die! to make a career out of it. The seventh album since their formation in 2003, This Is Not An Island Anymore is anything but sitting on its laurels. In fact, it’s splendidly surprising and the most enjoyably angry music I’ve heard in months. “Anger is an energy,” PiL’s John Lydon once claimed in a song, and Die! Die! Die! are the proof of it. If you’re going to kick out the jams, you might as well do it to music that has some sense of purpose, grit and conviction, right?
I see on the press release that they’ve always “blended the perfect concoction of powerful and infectious post-punk, noise pop, shoegaze, lo-fi and punk rock.” Hmm, noise pop? Shoegaze? I guess they have to come up with something to sell a band that must be a hard sell, despite being SO FUCKING GOOD!
What I hear on This Is Not An Island Anymore is an extremely tight, disciplined and dynamic (that word again) expression of pure rage. For a three-piece, they sure do know how to squeeze every drop of sonic inventiveness and surprise out of their drums, bass and guitar lineup. There’s none of the musical sloppiness/incompetence of their forbears. These are short, sharp, intensely focused and perfectly forged shots of rage, which makes it even more surprising that within the nine songs (eight if you don’t include the 56 instrumental seconds of ‘Takaparawhau’) there’s room for slight detours where the tempo halves or the guitar drops out entirely or the howling vocals give way to a short bit of spoken word.
There’s never any doubt that Andrew Wilson means what he sings. His high-pitched ranting – sometimes benefiting from “the megaphone effect” – is totally convincing. Happily, Wilson knows not to overdo it, and the voice is mixed as just another instrument. It’s important that every element works perfectly in a trio, and there are no weak links. Wilson knows exactly how to most effectively wrangle his axe (Eugene) to best effect, whether he’s he’s riffing monomaniacally in one chord or splaying feedback vomit or wielding the instrument into a brief solo interlude. Die! Die! Die! are back to the lineup we heard way back in 2006 and the rhythm section is ace. Michael Prain (drums) and Lachlan Anderson (bass) lock together like a machine and the result is thunderous.
The songs seem to be about – what else? – all the shitty stuff we’re facing up to in this newish century. I wish I had a lyric decoder but all I hear are fragments: lines like “I don’t feel anything!” on the title track, or “We shouldn’t drown!” on ‘Losing Sight – Keep On Kicking’ or “You’re not a very nice person!” on the finale, ‘Spending So Long Making Other People Feel Like Shit’. One of the more interesting pieces is ‘Vanish (But That’s My Hometown, Marcus)’ which seems to be a broadside at talkback radio and includes some background noise sampled from that most dispiriting of mediums.
It’s only about 25 minutes long in total, but that’s perfect for Die! Die! Die! Yes, I would like to hear them try a 19-minute epic, or at least get a bit more experimental like one of their other forbears, HDU. But it’s unlikely, and succinct still suits them. This Is Not An Island Anymore is a real shot in the arm at a time we really, really need it.