Brooklyn-based record label Sacred Bones has really become a label to watch this year. The music lover in me admires their approach to genuinely idiosyncratic acts, such as Pharmakon (who released the terrifying and utterly fascinating Abandon earlier this year), as well as more celebrated acts such as The Men and Zola Jesus. The librarian in me appreciates their catalogued cover art (a collector’s dream if you’re that way inclined). This week, along with Zola Jesus’ new album, Versions, the label has quietly released Deep Trip, the second album from Arizonian psych rockers Destruction Unit.
When I say “quietly released,” I mean that in the loosest and most figurative sense. The one word that does not spring to mind listening to Deep Trip is “quiet.” When the band played at Murica Fest in Los Angeles earlier this year, they were pretty much the loudest band on an evening full of loud bands. The scorched-earth aesthetic I described after seeing Destruction Unit that night has been captured on a record that opens with the squeal of feedback before the band launches into “The World On Drugs,” a wind tunnel adrenaline rush of a song that switches to a slowed-up doom dynamic halfway through before accelerating for a breathless climax.
The sound is difficult to pinpoint. Ryan Rousseau’s vocals find a strange sweet spot between spaced out and crazed, and the effects pedals give the music its psychedelic feel, yet the approach is more like full-throttle punk. The mix is loud and dense, and “Slow Death Sounds” is hardly a reprieve, repeating the same songwriting formula at a very similar tempo.
When Destruction Unit does choose to mix up the pace, the result can be devastating. Never is this more evident than on “The Holy Ghost,” whose opening is almost laid back and blindsides the listener before its sudden and thrilling injection of pace. The song’s tempo shifts only serve to ensure that the riffs and beats hit that little bit harder when they do arrive. “Bumpy Road” is a relative reprieve from the headstrong fury of the album, albeit one that exists in an ominous and unwelcoming space with a slow, repressive riff that runs through the entirety of its six minutes.
The only real disappointment on Deep Trip is Destruction Unit’s decision to end the album with “Night Loner,” a mid-paced chugging number that pushes the eight-minute mark on an album where tightness and brevity are the order of the day. In comparison with the likes of “God Trip,” which barely sticks around for two minutes and which features Rousseau’s vocals buried so deeply in the mix as to sound like the mutterings of a madman, “Night Loner” seems a little underwhelming and perhaps a tad indulgent.
None of which dampens the effect of the first three quarters of the album. Deep Trip is loud, troubling music for troubling times. In the ongoing aftermath of an economic collapse and near constant uncertainty about the future, five guys in Arizona have made the kind of pissed-off soundtrack that gets you on a gut level rather than an intellectual one. This is a visceral slice of rock and roll and a trip well worth taking. Whether you choose to depends on whether you have a strong enough stomach for Destruction Unit’s particular brand of nihilism.
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