Does Died’s debut LP Less Life see the band growing up, or is it just them getting old? It’s an odd question to ask of a group who are in the midst of pushing out what should be their first (and best impression) to the world, but hardcore bands tend to operate on different rules. For instance, a band's early 7”s and EPs tend to see the band at their creative heights, with their sound solidifying and calcifying by the time they get around to writing a full LP album. What I’m saying is that hardcore bands have a freshmen slump problem. Most peek in highschool and burn out before the first semester grades are in. You’re probably saying to yourself now, “ok, fine, so what about Died? What does this all mean for the band I came here to read about?” It’s funny you should ask. Do you remember kids in school who skipped grades? Well imagine one of those kids jumping from their senior year of highschool into a master's degree program at a mid-tier state university. That’s the transition from 2017’s EP Anonymized Internal Criminals to the Less Life LP in a nutshell.
Less Life is not as raucous as its predecessors and lives up to its name in that respect. While Anonymized Internal Criminals was a twisted, Arthur Rizk produced, rip ‘n tear affair, Less Life trades in its leather studded jacket and purling, cochlea-searing, hiss for a sensible cardigan and serviceable, mid-tempo grooves. The Steve Fisk produced album brings the more esoteric aspects of their sound into line to teach them the virtues of alt. rock and grunge revival, with an afterschool session on ‘90s emo. Opener “Boxwood” tosses off some causal, lightly venomous grooves that rain down around fluttery chorus harmonies in the same way that hard-pop used to elevate Mudhoney at their most concise. Funk rock grooves unlock hidden layers on “The Trial,” while “Busy Man” stumbles through a syphilitic fever dream of distortion with only a sunny Primus-esque bass progression as a lifeline. The best track for my money though is the kite-wheel spin and dive-bomb grooves of “Oja de Macao” which hits like Unwound’s elevated racket-rock and Drives like goddamned Jehu as soon as the rubber hits the metaphorical road.
Died aren’t the first band to transition from hardcore to a post-hardcore hybrid that feels like the shy cousin of a previous generation’s radio rock, but I can’t think of many bands who made this transition more abruptly. I mean, This Routine is Hell did it, but they at least had the decency to change their name to Swain first. There is a lot going right on Less Life that also went right on their previous albums. They still embrace some weird noisy passages. Their songwriting is still competent and performances proficient. And yeah, they still reckon with the realities of depression and psychic-zombification through substance abuse, debilitating anxiety, and anesthetizing boredom. I’ll admit it, I have a little aesthetic whip-lash from this release, and, yeah, I feel like the sounds they are digging into here are a little played out in 2020. However, this is still a talented group of guys who clearly know what they’re doing and my final impression of Less Life is on-balance quite positive. I likely won’t be lining up to grab a copy of their next release, but I’ll definitely check them out the next time they roll through Chicago (whenever that might be).
Mick is always writing about something he's heard. Possibly even something you'd like. You can read his stuff over at I Thought I Heard a Sound Blog.
6.5 / 10
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