Album Reviews

Dead Rider – Chills On Glass

(Drag City) UK release date: 17 March 2014


Dead Rider - Chills On GlassDead Rider (or D. Rider as they were once known) can usually be relied upon to mix things up and mess things around, usually to great effect. Chills On Glass is their third album, and it sees them moving off into new directions, messing with genre conventions and doing pretty much whatever they please.

Their combination of styles is at times a frantic and baffling mix, yet it almost always hits the spot. Jagged guitar lines smack into seething synths, scattershot drumming keeps the beat confusing, and Todd Rittmann’s vocals frequently switch between delicate croon, unhinged yowl, and terrified pop starlet.

Trying to neatly define what Dead Rider do is a fool’s errand, because they never quite fit any definition accurately. Sometimes they’re emphatically shaking it loose on the dancefloor to a scabrous thunder of electro hooks, occasionally they’re crawling through grime infested jazz tunnels towards certain doom (Fumes and Nothing Else), and sometimes they give themselves over to the simple pleasures of rock n roll abandon. More usually, they add a little of everything into the mix and wait to see what happens.

There are elements of other bands in there of course. It’s possible to spot the DNA of Butthole Surfers, Desert Sessions style Queens Of The Stone Age (vocally), Liars, Wolf Eyes and Mr Bungle, but Dead Rider are really doing their own thing and testing the boundaries with every new release. All of which means that quite often Chills On Glass demands time to be fully understood. It is far from immediate, and there are times when it seems almost impenetrable.

Thankfully, Dead Rider are smart enough to deposit the occasional hook within their songs that allows a tentative grip even at their most off-kilter. Weave’s film-noir soundtrack meets beat poetry is quite a challenge, but Rittmann’s vocal lines and the solid bass attack keep the song on a knife-edge for the duration. It’s not exactly pleasing listening, but there’s a wicked compulsion wrapped up in the delivery that makes it impossible not to keep listening.

Sex Grip Enemy’s discordant opening is a wiry and abrasive statement, but with a dollop of peanut butter, a sudden foray into post-punk territory, and what sounds like auto-erotic asphyxiation it suddenly becomes a horrific miasma capable of inducing a panic attack within seconds; it’s better than it sounds. When they’re not twisting genres into shape, they can be almost conventional. Of One Thousand is fairly straight-ahead rock charge with Rittman in full rock star mode. Yelling out barely conceivable dance moves for selection over a slinky guitar riff might be basic, but it is also wonderfully twisted. “Can you do the climate control?” he asks, and it seems plausible. “Would you like to see me do the donkey?” suggests that the RSPCA should be informed. “Can you do the hungry cock?” means it’s the kind of party where you can put your dick in the mashed potato without anyone raising an eyebrow.

What all this suggests is that even at their most straightforward, Dead Rider appear to be hell-bent on twisting everything to their whims. Cry Honey is a similar story: a fairly straight-laced stab at electronica on the surface, it’s actually a dark and brooding bundle of throbbing pulses. Blank Screen is the closest they get to doing straight down the line pop, but even here there’s a sense of unease wrapped up in the basslines and the twitching nervous vocal delivery. It’s gloriously wired.

Ultimately, Dead Rider is a band that will challenge anyone who hears them, but persevere and the rewards will be rich. Chills On Glass is a record that truly cuts its own furrow. It is a unique and challenging experience, and whilst it’s not always pleasant, this is music that dismisses convention and crackles with invention.

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