I first encountered DeathTram two years ago at the 2010 Pygmalion Festival. They were opening for Jimmy Gnecco at Indi-go, and of course there was nowhere else in the world I was going to be that night.
As I stood upstairs, talking with friends, I kept getting distracted by the great music being performed on the floor below us. Finally, I remarked on the band, saying, “They’re fantastic; who are they? Is that DeathTram?” My friends said they didn’t know, and we all walked over to the balcony, looked down, and I watched what would become one of my favorite local bands play in front of the small, quiet crowd as engagingly as if they were performing for everybody else who was currently at the Cap’n Jazz show.
Since then, I’ve tried to attend every show DeathTram plays. If they notice, they probably think I’m a weirdo by now, but I don’t care. I love their music. It’s good, solid rock, and those of us in the crowd can’t help but move and nod our heads and tap our hands against our legs to the beat.
So it was that I approached their newest release, s/t, expecting to like it, and they’ve not disappointed. The album opens with “Vultures,” a song that’s familiar to those of us who’ve seen DeathTram live recently. “Vultures” sounds just like its title: something bad, dark, deadly is coming. The mood of the song is unsettling, and the bass, twangy guitar, and symbols sustain this creepy feeling throughout.
“Other Side” is another guitar-heavy song, and it’s louder than “Vultures.” One thing that always surprises me about DeathTram is that they aren’t concerned with their vocals being a prominent element in their music. Tram’s voice here is low, deep, but not in the forefront at all. It’s all about the instruments, and the drums on this song are the standout.
“Tomorrow Is Just a Word” is the album’s only instrumental. I’ve come to love DeathTram’s psychedelic guitars. Tram and Stick’s playing reminds me of The Cramps’ “Goo goo muck.” There’s a sustained tension throughout this song that never lets up, not even at the end. This is my favorite song on the album. By the way, seeing “Tomorrow” played live is a fucking delight.
“If I Ever Get Born Again” continues DeathTram’s signature “go-go in a cage” sound. The lyrics are clever:
If I ever get born again
Don’t you try to wash away my sin
Again, we have low-key vocals and heavy drums keeping the easy, drone-like pace of a song that brings to mind warm, humid weather and toking up on the porch, watching the storm move in. And soon, it does move in, and the song’s slow, relaxed pace abruptly changes to an angry, argumentative ending.
Tram’s vocals are the most prominent in “Bit.Drift.” This song is a beautiful melody. The band is so tight here, it’s ridiculous.
s/t closes with “War Bully.” It’s the only song on the album that has what can be called an “upbeat tempo.” But there’s so much more going on here. I don’t play instruments, and I’ve certainly never played in a band, but it seems to me that this song is probably the most difficult on the album to play. A perfect ending to a wonderful album.
My one quibble with s/t is that I cannot understand the lyrics. The lines that I quoted above are the only words I can decipher. That said, it’s hard to describe what makes this album so good, because when I try to find the words, the music disappears on me. I don’t know if that makes sense. But explaining why I think certain music is good is almost impossible. It’s all so intangible. But DeathTram’s music, to me, is good because it has depth. There’s no pretension here. It’s just great rock and roll.