Available on: Downwards 10″
My nadsat’s a little rusty these days, but I think I’m right in saying Dva Damas means “two ladies”. Nadsat, in case you’d forgotten, is the language spouted by the droogs in A Clockwork Orange; the Damas in question here are sisters Taylor Burch and Shawna Burch, and though – as far as I know – they’re not prone to bouts of ultraviolence, they do bring a style and a black-hearted humour to their work that Burgess’s delinquent creations would doubtless approve of.
Of course, Dva Damas’s music itself couldn’t be further away from chief droog Alex’s beloved Beethoven. There’s no pomp and circumstance here, no imperious orchestration, just dead-eyed rock ‘n roll minimalism of the highest order.
At first it might seem odd that this Californian band – which also numbers Dillan O’Neal, Patrick Chase and the superbly named Joseph Cocherell – are releasing their debut EP through Downwards, a label historically best known for the industrial techno of Regis, Female and Surgeon; but closer inspection reveals it to be rather a good fit. Downwards, a label concertedly forged in the post-punk tradition, has enjoyed a long of history of releasing music that falls outside the dim light of the dancefloor, and recently that music has become its focus: this year has already seen the release of outre 10″s from Tropic of Cancer and Sandra Electronics, with offerings from Six Six Seconds and Colin Gorman Weiland in the pipeline.
Like nearly everything on Downwards, there’s an honesty, even a purity, to Dva Damas’s music. Though it variously recalls rockabilly and its descendents (especially The Cramps), post-Television downtown New York and that window between Joy Division and C86 when goth wasn’t a dirty word, these young pretenders somehow don’t succumb to pastiche. Just because the EP lacks the Pro-Tools sheen of contemporary “indie” rock doesn’t make it retro. Nor, crucially, does it sound self-consciously “lo-fi”; there’s plenty of distortion, granted, but it’s not allowed to choke the tracks. This stuff really breathes. And you can smell the cigarettes and liquor on its breath.
At times it’s hard to believe you’re listening to a five-piece; the arrangements, courtesy of Shawna Burch, are so ruthlessly streamlined that you feel you must be listening to a bare-bones trio, maybe even a duo. But the energy of five really comes across; there’s an incredible tensile power to the songs. Special credit ought to go to Cocherell, whose production is diligent without being invasive, squeezing a minimum of sonic elements into maximum effect.
Take opening track – and undoubted highlight of the package – ‘Brand New Head’. A tinny rhythm box tattoo sets the scene together with a bassline that fills the sound-field without overwhelming it, before a tautly thwacked live kit and twanging, seasick surf guitar arrive to propel things forward. But it’s Taylor’s hammy diction that quickly comes to command the attention: sounding neither American nor English, it has an intimidating alien charm all its own. The scarcely intelligible lyrics (“oh I remember everything…”) are made to sound at once seductive and chiding. The drums come centre-stage for ‘See Me’, this time recalling the dry, martial funklessness of Morris-through-Hannett on Unknown Pleasures. This track, like the closing ‘Time Dilation’, seems to end before it really ignites, but Taylor’s incitement in the latter to “criss-cross the line” lingers in the mind long after the needle is lifted.
I’ll be curious to see what comes next from Dva Damas, to see whether this 10″ is a self-contained curio or the start of something truly special. One thing I say with confidence here and now is that ‘Brand New Head’ is one of the most arresting, invigorating and unexpected tracks of the year; a timely reminder of the sounds and crucially the attitude that got us into music in the first place. Don’t miss.