Many rock and roll bands make depressing music, but only a select few dare to take a look at the darker side of life. Groups such as the Velvet Underground, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and Joy Division look into the abyss and describe what they see there. On its second album, The Contino Sessions (Time Bomb), the British duo Death In Vegas gives its take and makes one of the most compelling albums of the year.
Death In Vegas takes its style from groups such as Primal Scream and Lo-Fidelity Allstars. The group blends rock and electronica into new forms. Thrashing guitars and pounding bass lines mix with dance-club rhythms and washes of synthesizers. But while other bands generally use these sounds in upbeat, danceable tunes, Death In Vegas creates what could be the music in Hell, if Hell were a dance club.
Instead of using lyrics, Death In Vegas blends sounds to create an atmosphere, letting the listener make up pictures in his own mind. The album opens with the spine-tingling “Dirge.” It starts out sparsely, with a guitar strumming in the background. Then different sounds are added to the mix one at a time. An angelic voice singing, a sinister bass line, synthesizers pumping out white noise – it all builds up into one sheer wall of sound. “Death Threat” is anchored by a demonic, jaunty whistling tune while hitting you with blasts of noise, techno-bleeps and a pounding rhythm.
A few of the songs have vocals, and Death In Vegas was fortunate to get some big names to help it on these tracks. “Soul Auctioneer” features Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream on vocals. Unfortunately, his attempt to sound sinister and sleazy comes off more silly than anything else. Jim Reid of Jesus and Mary Chain makes an appearance on “Broken Little Sister.” Reid’s vocals work well in this song because the song sounds as if it could have come from an early Jesus and Mary Chain album.
The legendary Iggy Pop sings on the standout “Aisha.” If there can be death-disco and death-metal, then “Aisha” is death-funk. Iggy Pop sings about death, murder and mayhem in his straight-from-the-crypt voice, while a bass-beat that could have come straight from “Shaft” fills the background. It disturbs you and makes you want to strut at the same time. It is also one of Pop’s best songs this decade.
Not every song on The Contino Sessions is filled with pure darkness. “Flying” is a more laid-back affair. It’s a song you would listen to if you were tripping. The only downside of this track is the high-pitched melody can become grating after a while. “Aladdin’s Story” is actually somewhat upbeat thanks to the help of an organ. “Neptune City” is almost joyous, building up through repetition to a sheer sonic assault on your mind and ears.
Critics have said this is the album The Velvet Underground would have made if they had started today instead of 30 years ago. Those critics, however, don’t give Death In Vegas enough credit. It’s rare to find a band that is so willing to experiment and go out on the edge. It is still more rare to find one that can do it as well as Death In Vegas has on this album.