One of the biggest dangers in music journalism is hyperbole – either succumbing to it or producing it – and so press releases must be treated with the utmost caution lest you be led astray by their wildly over-eager praise and deeply emotive adjectives. However, the press release that accompanied De Staat was enough to arouse interest and if the comparisons drawn (Nick Cave, Captain Beefheart, Queens of the stone age) only draw part of the picture, well we can forgive them for getting hung up on the big names.
Actually, the first name that springs to mind when checking out De Staat’s excellent second album ‘Machinery’ is the Butthole Surfers. That is old Butthole surfers (before they got all screwed up by electronic gizmos on ‘weird revolution’) when they released singles like ‘Pepper’ and hard rock belters like ‘the lord is a monkey’ and, in the same vein, De Staat are genre-hopping Gremlins of the first order who take in the eclectic, grand slamming funk of Beck, the dance grooves of Kelis’ ‘Milkshake’, the horny soul of QOTSA via “Make it wit chu” and the lost, gothic romanticism of Nick Cave often within the same song.
Opening with the slamming “Ah, I see” which has a massive bass rumble, sub-rave repetitive sound effects and guitars which are channelled from a heavy metal concert, it’s as if Primus and the Butthole Surfers have magically got it together and reappeared after a decade in the wilderness and the result is electrifying. Torre Florim’s mercurial vocals sit at the heart of the thing – like Gibby Haynes he adopts whatever character suits the song, often sounding completely different depending upon the musical backdrop his band decide to provide as we quickly see on the second track; the bonkers, brilliant slice of twisted alternative pop-funk that is “sweatshop”, a track that references Outkast, Kelis and Beck without missing a beat or sounding in any way contrived. It’s mad as a fish in willies, but a huge amount of fun. Moving swiftly on without pausing for breath the band lurch into “I’ll never marry you” which is so Nick Cave-esque you have to pause to make damn sure you haven’t popped in some weird-ass alternative compilation into the CD player instead especially as the chorus sees the track segue blithely into pure QOTSA territory complete with falsetto and languid guitars. However, this is De Staat and they can only remain serious for so long which is why the insane “Old Macdonald don’t have no farm no more” (which sounds like a martinet Sergeant-Major singing a marching song to a skeletal, bass-laden dance track) appears immediately afterwards and sends the lunacy, and genius, levels into overdrive.
If ‘I’ll never marry you’ contained elements that were QOTSA, ‘I’m a rat’ is pure Josh Homme sleaze, with a creepy falsetto backed by a gentle, groin-rocking groove that suits the bedroom far better than the dance floor although it may prove effective in either, and you start to wonder if maybe De Staat are trying to replace Barry White as the bedroom crooners of choice. If that is there aim, however, they hide it well when they unleash deranged tracks like ‘keep me home’ which is dark, brooding and sounds like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club playing the soundtrack to one of David Bowie’s cocaine-induced nightmares complete with haunting gospel-esque backing vocals and lush instrumentation. Upon fading out through a haze of feedback and unsettling noise ‘Tumbling down’ resets the band’s groove via a mechanistic drum beat and Blur (13 era) style harmonies – sort of how you imagine 13 would have sounded if it had been produced by Trent Reznor and Saul Williams while ‘Psycho disco’ sounds more-or-less exactly as you might imagine it would sound!
With paranoia seemingly creeping in to the band’s set, ‘rooster man’ is a fantastic slab of twisted stoner groove that suggests that the initial high of the first few tracks has now diminished to a vague, sweat-soaked sheen of paranoia that makes for unhinged, but utterly addictive listening. Huge slabs of synth crawl over the bass-led groove while the vocals shimmer under the layer of reverb that attempts to smother them. If hell has a disco, this could very well be its spectacular soundtrack. ‘Serial killer’ brings back the funk, although it’s a dark, twisted funk far from the half-assed, dull, pop-infused funk of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and it sounds quite brilliant. Final track ‘back to the grind’ lives up to its name by referencing Beck’s “soul sucking jerk” in terms of attitude and sheer visceral thrill with huge slabs of grinding rhythm shooting through it.
De Staat, it has to be said, are quite, quite brilliant. While it is a given that they will not appeal to the more metal-minded readers who visit SonicAbuse, for those who have a hankering for the days when Mike Patton would bounce between Loveage, Tomahawk and Pepping Tom, when Butthole Surfers provided the soundtrack to Beavis and Butthead and when Primus ground out twisted slabs of funky brilliance then this is for you. Comparisons to QOTSA, Nick Cave, Captain Beefheart and the like are fair and understandable, but there’s so much more going on here – as if Torre Florim’s twisted muse has infected the other members of this unique band and sent all five spinning off on some mad, Hunter S. Thompson journey into the mescaline-soaked desert. Inspiring, insane and ingenious, this is what pop music should sound like rather than the mass-produced, soulless, mindless crap ground out on X factor. ‘Machinery’ should be required listening for anyone with a pulse – it really is quite remarkable.