Despite the year’s plethora of barely-average garage rock releases from the likes of Twin Peaks, The Black Lips and Ty Segall; genuine classics emerged from Thee Oh Sees, Death From Above 1979 and The Black Keys. The problem with the former list of bands is their single-minded concentration on obfuscating fuzz and hackneyed three-chord attacks rather than good musicianship, whereas the latter bands succeed by synthesising the down-and-dirty qualities of playing in a garage with genres as diverse as progressive rock and electronic music. Deep Sleep sees New Zealand rockers The Datsuns escaping the confines of being yet another 1960s derivative – a charge that has haunted the band for the majority of their decade-plus career – and it is a sign that garage rock-revivalism may not yet be played out.
Before discussing the music, check out that album cover; it acts as a decent summary of the sounds contained within Deep Sleep. The 1982 cult classic film Heavy Metal comes to mind: mindless debauchery and what-the-hell-just-happened moments that demand a shit-eating grin or two. Second track Bad Taste is a fantastic example: the opening riffs easily evoke Heavy Metal’s namesake by Sammy Hagar. It’s a good taste of what’s left to come.
In fact, there’s much more of an old school ’70s heavy metal or acid rock influence here. The closest that The Datsuns get to Black Sabbath is on the plodding (and unfortunately maligned) 500 Eyes, but the work of progenitors Blue Öyster Cult and Cream certainly rings hard on Claw Machine and That’s What You Get. It isn’t doomy; listeners desiring Sabbath stylings should listen elsewhere. Deep Sleep is a testosterone-infused rocker by no stretch of the imagination, but it is one that’s self-aware enough to play with that feeling.
The stronger tracks have some ’80s/’90s power metal feeling: the lightning bruiser riffs of Swedish group Wolf are loud and clear on Shaky Mirrors and Looking Glass. Those shorter betray the most that The Datsuns have to offer here though; the slower 500 Eyes and Sun In My Eyes simply don’t live up to their slow build. Sun In My Eyes most of all focuses way too strongly on a strange bit of pining that is at odds with the ever-present fuck-all attitude on the rest of the album. Whether or not it’s the requisite sentimental song notwithstanding, it breaks the flow of an otherwise consistent work.
However, the closing title track is a perfect example of the importance of progression in garage rock. Some revivalist bands completely miss the idea that ’60s and ’70s garage rock was extremely progressive and experimentalist for the era: early Stooges and MC5, for example, instilled the power of confrontation and revolution as a very foundation for punk rock and even harder-edged rock, and the Nuggets bands showcased the increasing influence of drug and free love culture on music. “Garage rock” is not a synonym for “regression,” which a lot of modern three-chord attack bands seem to forget. It is with this in mind that Deep Sleep closes on one of the highest notes of The Datsuns’ career: an intensely psychedelic and fiery jam that truly kicks out the jams.
Deep Sleep is a bit one-noted in the way that makes all of Ty Segall’s myriad of albums sound like they are the same release: unless one has listened quite a few times, there isn’t much in the way of cuts. That being said, The Datsuns are certainly on their way to a heavy and deeply engrossing sound. They’re experimenting more this time around, and the results are – for the most part – successful. At the very least what doesn’t translate on wax will do better on stage. Hard rock shall rock on for a bit longer.