John Barrett – who, for all intents and purposes, is Bass Drum of Death – has come an awful long way these past couple of years – not that you’d know it. Having toured extensively in support of debut full-length GB City, he’s effectively turned what was a bedroom project in rural Mississippi into an international concern, with the band becoming notorious for riotous garage-rock sets that were high on energy and low on duration. Heightened profile and momentum meant little, though, when it came to recording a follow-up; Bass Drum of Death was produced in as markedly lo-fi a fashion as its predecessor.
USB microphones and limited resources were again the order of the day, just as had been the case on GB City - with that record, Barrett laid down a fierce mission statement, with barked, distorted vocals and racing drums drowned in feedback-laden guitars. On this self-titled sophomore LP, there’s no major changes to that modus operandi. Blistering opener ‘I Wanna Be Forgotten’ could’ve been plucked straight from the archives, but it’s followed by ‘Fines Lines’, which sees a drop in tempo that sets the pace for the rest of the record.
Bass Drum of Death effectively serves as a slightly more refined re-tread of GB City; Barrett’s vocals, usually undecipherable last time around, are now a little easier to discern without quite so much distortion, and there’s a little more tonal expansion in the guitar sound, especially on the likes of ‘Faces of the Wind’. There’s little evidence, though, to suggest that Barrett has attempted to experiment beyond the two existing Bass Drum of Death settings, which are furious garage (‘Crawling After You’, ‘(You’ll Never Be) So Wrong’) and sassy, groove-driven blues rock (‘No Demons’, ‘White Fright’).
On the rare forays outside of those two tried and true formulae, results are decidedly mixed; the constant shifting through the tempo gears on ‘Such a Bore’ is pretty jarring, but the inclusion of some pleasing harmonies on ‘Fines Lines’ is a clear step in a more interesting, pop-oriented direction. Lead single ‘Shattered Me’ is a wise choice for that role; clocking in at a little over two minutes and featuring some lovely melodic guitar work, it’d prove a perfect introductory blast for anybody who missed out last time around.
With a more stable live lineup finally in place, Barrett intends to go into a studio and make a rock record in the more traditional manner when the time comes for Bass Drum of Death to lay down their third full-length. Until then, this self-titled effort amounts to little more than the sound of him treading water; it’s every bit as fun and energetic as GB City, and the chaotic live shows aren’t likely to see a change of pace any time soon, but there’s practically nothing in the way of progression here, either; it’s probably best, then, to reserve judgement on the band’s future until after we hear what they’re capable of with greater resources at their disposal.