Although the garage-blues sub-genre maintained an underground presence throughout the late 80s and 90s thanks to Billy Childish and Jon Spencer’s mighty Blues Explosion, it really only reached a broader public consciousness once everyone’s favourite red and white candy striped duo, The White Stripes, broke into the mainstream.
Keeping with similar musical traditions, The Dead Ex’s debut ‘Resurrection’ pulls together the best elements of The Blues Explosion with a hint of Childish’s ramshackle attitude – and while it brings little that’s new to the musical style in question, it’s not without a few gems.
The Dead Exs’ vocalist and guitarist is David Pattillo, a New York producer of note, having worked with a number of bands including The Hold Steady, Beastie Boys, Jakob Dylan and Alanis Morissette. For his own project, however, the production values are less than shiny; this Dead Exs release was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs. The fuzz-driven vibes are similar to his project The Dirty Glamour (which has a similar feel to early Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Spanish duo Idealipsticks), but in direct comparison, The Dead Exs bring the listener fewer hooks and user-friendly qualities. However, what The Dead Exs lack in hooks, they make up for with power and grit.
The subtle ‘Shut Up and Love Me’ is based around a solid groove with dominant drums. Wylie Wirth’s style has presence, but maintains a very basic style. Patillo’s vocal is strong yet heavily filtered and a one-line chorus, intercut with rather uncharacteristic ‘whoo-hoos’, tops some great, yet fairly weighty slide guitar work. It’s with the boogie-blues of ‘Come Down Easy’ that The Dead Ex’s sound at their most assured, though. Wirth settles into a fabulous shuffle (which becomes heavily reliant on cymbals in places) over which, there’s a guitar groove recalling ‘Boom Boom’ by John Lee Hooker clashing with the youthfulness of the early white rhythm and blues of the 60s – albeit with a hugely increased volume.
It’s a recording which captures the bristling energy and sweat within the studio at the time of recording and in doing so, manages to encapsulate The Dead Exs’ pure musical style.
The slow, brooding ‘Gone’ offers the flip-side of the band’s sound and while it loses a sense of fun, in its place is a musical snapshot of a duo that have really hit their stride. While the lead guitar work rarely stretches beyond a bit of rudimentary string bending and a heavy reliance on distortion pedals, there’s something enjoyable about it’s almost primal qualities – in the same way there are thrills to be had by hearing The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion careening out of control, or experiencing J Mascis throwing in out of tune solos in unpredictable places during Dinosaur Jr numbers.
‘The Angel From New Orleans’ is driven by another great shuffle. It maintains listener interest for the duration and this in turn allows Pattillo to lay down a slide guitar line which – aside from a bluesy run in places – settles for being a sheet of unsubtle slide noise. It brings nothing you won’t have already heard from similar sounding garage blues, but even so, if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s got its share of hard-time, beer-soaked thrills. If you want to experience the band at full-pelt, then ‘Trouble In Kind’ more than delivers; throughout a heavily distorted blues workout, Patillio adopts a very thrashy, almost garage-punk approach to the slide guitar whilst Wirth smashes his kit in a relentless fashion. For what it offers, you’d be hard pushed to find better.
‘Whole Lotta Nothin’, however, couldn’t be more aptly named. Over rudimentary slide work, Pattillo wails and sobs like he’s being poked repeatedly with a stick for over two minutes. Naturally, it sounds like it’s building up to something, but by the time Wirth kicks in with a proper drum part, it’s a bit late in the day. This is a great shame, since his heavy drum sound has a great presence once again; and with that comes a change in tone from Pattillo’s guitar work, leaning farther towards a bottom end-fuzz. Bringing these elements in earlier really could have saved this number. Luckily, this is swiftly followed by one of the album’s best moments… ‘Nolita Strut’ is a cocky instrumental with Pattillo’s guitar taking on a heavily treated vibe – all pedals and overdrive, which combined with the swagger, creates an infectious ditty which sounds like a studio jam by The Dead Weather. Even when The Dead Exs briefly move away from the original riff, although Wirth’s drum fills seem a little disjointed from Pattillo’s heavy-handed approach to lead guitar, they manage to keep momentum. In all, although clocking in at a brief two and a half minutes, ‘Nolita Strut’ is superb; ‘Ressurection’ is worth seeking out just to hear this number.
While the limits of their chosen genre may mean there’s not much room for variation and David Pattillo does not always summon the energy bought by early Jon Spencer performances,‘Ressurection’ manages to be a fairly consistent release. There are more than enough garage rock thrills here for listeners who have a soft spot for the Blues Explosion’s pre-‘Extra Width’ grooves and other similar sounds to to get a fairly big kick out of The Dead Exs.
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