BITTER SWILL - The Dead Set (TDS/Reverberation)
The unassuming cover art and bare bones liner credits might suggest otherwise, but there's an in-your-face fire and grittiness about this album that'll leave an indelible mark if you get too close. A storming bottom end and a relentless guitar undertow do the job, in a big way.
The Dead Set hail from Wollongong, a steel town 90 minutes south of Sydney and a rich breeding ground for bands in the '80s and '90s (Tumbleweed being the most successful). It can be a tough town whose audiences know how to enjoy themselves without brooking any bullshit. That'd be the Mt Ousley escarpment you see on the cover.
The Dead Set are 'The Band Formerly Known as Shifter' and were forced to change their name to Rifter when a lawyer representing a Brisbane band claiming the same same moniker came a-knocking. Shifter (these guys) put out a cool EP in 2002 that only hinted at what they might produce over the duration of a long player. (The other Shifter recently signed a sponsorship deal with US telco Cingular. Maybe there's another cease-and-desist letter pending 'cos I just heard there's now an L.A. death metal band calling itself by the same name).
While "Bitter Swill" took ages to ferment it's been worth the wait. Rob Younger produced it with Brent Williams (New Christs) engineering and adding occasional keyboards. The sound is lean and hard, with the extra tonal variation from occasional jew's harp and keyboard washes providing some neat colouring.
Two songs in and "Drifting Dead Beats" fairly tells the story: Its relentless feel is tougher than a Port Kembla pub bouncer after chucking-out time and there's enough octane in the guitars to fuel a fleet of monster trucks. The frenetic "Weekend Quinella" motors along in similar style while "Night Special" borders on tough-as-teak pop with its fleshy chorus. The closing "Rocket Rider" is a steamy tour de force with surf overtones.
The Dead Set might have a rep as a guitar band but the real heart of rock and roll is the engine room, and in this instance they're well served by Jamie (bass) and Tom (drums).
Stylisitcally, it's a varied bag. The band cites influences from the Hoodoo Gurus (most noticeably on "Catch the Tide") to The Wipers, The (Bailey) Saints, Radio Birdman and the Beasts of Bourbon. Reality is that they sound like all of the above but none of them really. The sound's stripped-back, raw and fairly timeless - which probably means they recall half the bands I grew up with in Oz in the '80s. On the other hand, some of the guitar attack from Dave (Kettley - a member of the newest New Christs line-up) and Karl (who also sings) puts me in mind of Black Flag, in parts. Call it 'urban surf' - the music sounds like the place where the spring tide waves crash bypass the beach and crash onto the bitumen carpark.
It's an album that takes a few listens to get right into and then becomes hard to dislodge from the CD player. The Dead Set are unlikely to trouble their home town's commercial radio, programmers, which is a condemnation of narrow playlists the world over rather than this disc. It's rumoured that someone on WAVE-FM accidentally played some of it to intro some sports results, which would make a nice change from Kelly Clarkson.
The Dead Set remind me a little of Newcastle band The Fools, another straight-up bunch of rock dogs whose solitary album became much sought-after, years after they were no longer a going concern. Be the first on your street to own a copy of "Bitter Swill". (Move quickly - it's already gaining Spanish airplay after copies found their way into programmers' hands via the New Christs tour.)
– The Barman
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