The Dead Science, Physics of Meaning and Dan Kaufman Superstar Eruption Wednesday, June 4, 2008 Hi-Dive Better Than: Playing Indie-metal free jazz by yourself
In any “movement,” there are going to be the moderates and the radicals. Both groups have equal claim on the direction of the movement, though the former generally focus on preserving it as a whole and the latter in continually pushing it forward. In indie music, which has in the last decade or so moved from a strictly DIY movement to a sound that can fill Red Rocks, this divide frequently manifests itself in strange ways. Few could be stranger than including the Dead Science under the merry umbrella.
Including the Dead Science generally makes sense. The band makes pop music and focuses on communicating its message in a unique and independent way. It has all the right friends and label mates, indie stalwarts like The Mountain Goats, Do Make Say Think, Sunset Rubdown, and Xiu Xiu. Its songs, even in the newest and increasingly experimental upcoming release Villainaire, have relatively crooked but usually melodic song structures, led by the breathy and high-pitched, Morrissey-esqe vocals from frontman and guitarist Sam Mickens, which anchor the band’s strange and moving music.
Live, however, the group does not merely distinguish itself from its Northwest brethren, it nearly destroys the connection completely, with drums that are boiled with incomprehensibly difficult, seemingly random but always perfectly timed rhythms, and basslines that crackles and moans, especially in its upright form, in which bassist Jherek Bischoff attacks, bow in hand, as if he belonged in a death-metal band. The guitar cuts through in angular, somewhat jazz-inflected bursts and Mickens, stoic through it all, squeals, shouts and mumbles lyrics like “with a bent back towards the railing…/hairpins falling like harpoons”.
The group has too much androgynous reticence for metal, too much virtuosity for the typical everyman philosophy of indie and too much pop to be truly avant-garde or progressive. Last night, the act conveyed a sense of dark, theatrical terror with songs shrouded in mazelike layers of complexity. The Dead Science, like its closest kin, Xiu Xiu, continues to expand the boundaries of pop music while still remaining keenly aware of those boundaries.
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Opener Physics of Meaning offered up moderate yet still challenging and different music, which blended Pacific Northwest indie rock with the Southern rock and Americana traditions of its home state of North Carolina. Physics frontman Daniel Hart plays in the breakout group St. Vincent but, more importantly, here, he completely shreded on violin, giving his instrument a more prominent and important role than the cursory treatment it usually receives in such groups. His playing last night was frequently as virtuosic as that of Bischoff.
Dan Kaufman's solo set was less admirable. Kauffman, a local guitarist and singer who has worked with some of the most important artists in the scene, including Carrie Beeder, Bryan Feuchtinger and Michael Serviolo, played an increasingly banal video projection behind loud, sludgy post-rock with mumbled lyrics over a recording of a live band. In the face of two acts that weren’t afraid of being radical, Kauffman came off as a bit boring.
-- James Anthofer
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: I saw Xiu Xiu at the hi-dive about a year and a half ago and was blown away. I think much of the Dead Science’s set topped it, however. Random Detail: In addition to the typical merchandise, the Dead Science also sold buttons with Ghostface Killah on them and references the GZA on its website. By the Way: Physics of Meaning called Denver the “Mount Olympus of the West”.