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Death - ...For the Whole World to See

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Artist: Death

Album: ...For the Whole World to See

Label: Drag City

Review date: Feb. 9, 2009

Every time a reissue of a remarkable, lost record comes out, it’s difficult to resist the temptation to compile an amazed laundry-list of bands it mysteriously prefigures. Death’s …For the Whole World to See provokes such a response. Some licks sound like Husker Du. Some quivery vocals evoke H.R. of Bad Brains.

But better, perhaps, to view Death’s seven-song oeuvre as the logical bridging of a lacuna rather than a before-its-time aberration. Of course it makes sense that, in mid-’70s Detroit, three black brothers (Dannis, Bobby and David Hackney) might have gotten as into the Stooges and MC5 as into Funkadelic, that they might have synthesized the sounds of FM rock radio just as their white peers ransacked soul and funk. The Hackneys released a single, recorded and shelved an album, and then moved to Vermont with their family. They morphed into a reggae band. Time passed. The EP slowly acquired a cult record-collector following. Tapes were unearthed, and here we are.

Death’s music falls somewhere between ’70s hard rock and the more stripped-down, straightforward garage rock one might deem proto-punk. Obviously influenced by Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, most of their songs span multiple parts and time signatures. “Let the World Turn” even features a drum solo. With the exception of that song, a reverby slow-jam, the album stays uptempo. It’s replete with wonderful, memorable moments, like “Freakin’ Out,” which mixes a classic-sounding garage riff with an unexpected chorus that sharply repeats the title phrase over a snare beat. “Rock-N-Roll Victim” avoids hard-rock cliché by augmenting the drums with handclaps.

There’s not a bad song in the bunch, but the songs from Death’s only official release are the clear highlights on …For the Whole World to See. “Keep On Knocking” is a simple, catchy rock song that gets all the elements right, particularly Bobby Hackney’s urgent vocals and David’s spot-on guitar solo. “Politicians In My Eyes,” the EP’s A-side, is masterful. Form meets content as Bobby alternately spits out and wails lyrics decrying hypocritical politicians. David’s guitars and Dannis’ drums, similarly, sound angry, accusatory. Fiercely energetic, it sounds so rooted in such a particular time and place that it has a kind of canonical familiarity, like something that’s been played on the radio for years.

By Talya Cooper

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