It’s quite a compliment to say that Marijuana Deathsquads’ music is even more provocative than their eye-catching name. And on the Minneapolis experimental collective’s first proper full-length, Oh My Sexy Lord, the band delivers an album packed with bold sonic risks and brazen textured beats that are ultimately so fresh and exciting that Marijuana Deathsquads could serve as an apt description of an entire musical genre within itself, in addition to the name of the group.
Deathsquads are led by the sonic alchemists Ryan Olson – the writer and producer behind Gayngs and Poliça’s debut album – and Isaac Gale, along with a madcap ensemble of musical innovators from around the Twin Cities and beyond. The group’s formation centered around an untamed live show that featured a revolving cast of talent as well as loose and variable song structures which pulsed with a modern electronic ferocity while being driven forward by their roving crew of relentless percussionists – a role which is now being held down by Poliça’s talented dual drummers, Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson.
And while capturing the incendiary quality of their boisterous live shows has proven slightly elusive thus far, on Oh My Sexy Lord, MDS refines their occasionally impenetrable sound excursions and delivers a taut, imaginative collection of feral songs that demand your attention while defying conventional classification. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh contribute ghostly guest vocals alongside Gale’s pained, distorted wail, but their highly processed lyrical contributions only serve as cryptic entry points to the fitful music itself, while also forming barely recognizable harmonic guideposts amidst the sonic squalor of the songs.
The record announces itself with an angelic din before the simmering “Ewok Sadness” unfolds tempestuously, springing forth dynamically from a towering tribal drum beat and Gale’s urgent howl, before all hell breaks loose at the halfway point and the track erupts in a relentless electronic discord. The album is full of brief segues and sonic detours, with “Scheme” allowing the listener enough space to catch their breath while getting lured into a false sense of calm before the glitchy stomp of “Crosstown Crippler” unleashes its insistent beat and a layered electroclash cacophony.
“Sunglasses and Bail Money” features Vernon and Leaneagh’s diaphanous vocals amidst a slow-burning swell of synths that carries an ominous threat of release, like a wave crashing that looked small on the horizon but now engulfs everything around you. “Dissolve” lives up to its name, as the towering beats of “Bail Money” are torn apart and put together anew, while the middle portion of the album dials down the clamor in favor of a more refined exploration of sound and scope.
It’s a cheeky move to have Vernon sing on a song called “Stacks”, with the Deathsquads number serving as a Crystal Castles-tinged, Bizarro World version of Bon Iver’s wistful track of the same name. But ultimately there is no line that MDS won’t cross on Oh My Sexy Lord, from the inflammatory title and album art, right down to the music composed by an inventive, risk-taking group of musicians who have no interest in conventional rules or any need for musical parameters.
The self-assured bristle of the HEALTH-like “Bad Boy Masterpiece” launches the album’s untamed sprint to the finish, with the eerie charms of “8 9 3″ gradually building to an insanely catchy pulse that echoes the best moments of Holy Fuck. “Goldan” is driven forward by a futuristic throb and a musical language entirely their own, as if the band is communicating with an alien species that we’ve yet to discover. “Vibrant Beast” is an entirely apt term to describe the complete album, as well as serving as its rowdy closing track, with Marijuana Deathsquads emphatically proving once again that there is indeed beauty to be found in electronic dissonance, as well as plenty of original artistry in the band’s boundless creative exploration.