Bass Drum of Death – GB City Review

This is what would happen if Jack White, Andrew W.K. and David Johansen held hands during a particularly energetic bathroom break. I drew the short stick this week for critic analogies.

Bass Drum of Death – GB City (2011) – 6.0 / 10.0

Release Date: April 12, 2011
Running Time: 34:29
Producer: John Barrett
Label: Fat Possum
Genre: Neo-Psychedelic Rock, Garage Punk, Garage Rock Revival
Drug of Choice: Everything. Then more cocaine.
Key Tracks:
“High School Roaches”
“Spare Room”
“Young Pros”

Bass Drum of Death, the working name of John Barrett, joins an ever growing class of artists that take their cues from the Psychedelic Garage Rock of the late 60s. We have almost reached the point of cliche with this sub-genre. What started essentially as the Jesus & Mary Chain moved to BRMC and the White Stripes before the modern incarnations with Ariel Pink, Jay Reatard, and even Best Coast. While these albums are fun and certainly better than the average record, they are rarely revelatory. Short songs, bratty lead singer, Boardwalk 50s beat, hissing guitars, and a whole lot of volume. Bass Drum of Death doesn’t do much to set himself outside of the pack.

I appreciate that Barrett’s heart and balls are in the right place, but what GB City ultimately demonstrates is just how good Detroit Rockers like White and the Dirtbombs are for being able to take such a simplistic style and standing out. GB City follows way too many of the rules in a style of music that was designed to break the rules. The album clocks in at just over thirty minutes and the tracks are paced to follow suit. The entire record is covered in a sheen of feedback and noise, even carrying the characteristic hazy vocal effect.

I think Bass Drum would be a much more satisfying if Barrett cleaned up the sound and showed off a bit. If you can get through the cloud of distractions, it becomes pretty clear that this kid has some serious chops. The repeating guitar rhythm on “Spare Room” is nothing short of scary and this song shows that he knows how to pace a song as well. I get the feeling that if he spent less time following the rules and devoted his energy to finding his own path, there could be some really good music in our future. Barrett provides further evidence of this on his cleaned up bonus track cover of “He’s So Fine”. There he’s paying homage to that 50s sound without sounding like anybody else. I wish he had taken that path on the rest of the record. I would also like to point out that Barrett does impressively well recording himself as an entire band (well, drum, guitar, and multiple vocal tracks at least). Everything melds together pretty seamlessly and he has some real talents behind the board.

In the end, this is an easy, enjoyable listen. I think Bass Drum could be a much better project as Barrett matures into his own musician. I’m really hoping his next record takes one of those completely unexpected turns that makes his fans sick to their stomachs. That’s the good kind of cliche to have. Until then, I’ll probably be grabbing those BRMC and Ariel Pink records when I need this fix.

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for 411music.com. Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.