Sistrionix is only the first album by Deap Vally. Nonetheless, the Los Angeles duo have been courting the British music press for the best part of a year via a series of festival appearances, big-ticket support slots and noisy interviews. The band’s eagerness to put themselves out there in spite of the lack of recorded material is testament to the potency of their live show. By all accounts, Deap Vally make an almighty racket on stage, especially impressive given that they’re merely a White Stripes-style guitar-and-drums duo.
Now, on Sistrionix, Deap Vally (who consist of Lindsey Troy on vocals and guitar and Julie Edwards on drums) have a chance to prove that their sound works as well through headphones as it does blasting out of a stack of amps. So, then, do Deap Vally have the songs to match their burgeoning reputation as a live act?
The answer is a heavily-qualified ‘yes’. In an interview back in September of last year, the band spoke of their plans for the then yet-to-be-recorded album: “It needs to sound raw rock ‘n’ roll, music that’s played by our hands… It’s about capturing a moment in times, it’s not about perfection.” They’ve certainly achieved those aims on Sistrionix: freed from the burnishing effects of ProTools, the instrumentation is satisfyingly rough around the edges. To deploy the cliché beloved of hi-fi salesmen in the ’80s, it sounds as if the band are playing in the listener’s front room.
Opener End Of The World begins with a huge, foundations-shaking throb of guitars – rather like the imminent arrival of the Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park interpreted through music – and, from then on in, the album barely lets up until closer Six Feet Under’s strange, quiet coda 40 minutes later. Musically, Deap Vally’s most obvious antecedents are Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Stooges; on Woman Of Intention, the band sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs after an intensive period spent at Rock School.
While Deap Vally are good at conjuring up riffs (the one on Baby I Call Hell is particularly infectious), they’re considerably less good at writing melodies that stick. Walk Of Shame ends with a cute little flurry of call-and-response vocals – perhaps the only occasion on the album when Troy and Edwards don’t seem desperate to showcase their rock chops and, perhaps not coincidentally, the record’s poppiest moment.
Much has been made of the fact that Deap Vally are an all-female band. This really shouldn’t be considered a novelty in the year 2013, but it’s nonetheless become the keynote of Deap Vally’s publicity trail: an article in Glamour magazine in which the band are said to be “inject[-ing] some real girl power back into the male-dominated world of gritty, blues-based rock ‘n’ roll” is fairly typical.
That, coupled with the album’s title, might lead one to believe that there’s a feminist message underpinning Deap Vally’s musical bluster, but that’s not really the case: only Gonna Make My Own Money (“You say marry a rich man, find a rich one if you can / Daddy, don’t you understand, I’m gonna make my own money, gonna buy my own land”) explicitly thumbs its nose at the music world’s chauvinistic tendencies. It’s therefore probable that Deap Vally chose the album title simply because it’s a good pun.
That sense of unpretentious fun pervades throughout Sistrionix. It only becomes problematic when Deap Vally begin to flirt overtly with rock ‘n’ roll clichés, as on Bad For My Body, a declaration of hard living whose lack of specificity – “Doing things that are bad for my body / Doing things that are bad for my health… If our mothers only knew / The trouble that we get into” – renders the sentiment completely unthreatening, quaint even.
Despite the record’s flaws, it’s hard to stay angry with Sistrionix for very long. It’s ferociously played, sensitively recorded and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Now, if they only had slightly better tunes, the temptation to highlight the supposedly novel elements of their act might prove easier to resist.