Most of my formative understanding of The Dead C was characterized by distance and an intentionally degraded sound; as though when listening I was actually eavesdropping on a dank basement show they were playing across the street. For me, this distraught sound became the appeal of The Dead C, especially after the cognitive murkiness of memory took hold. It was how I half-remembered them, why I thought my interest in their back catalog was lasting. And even as recent as their 2008 release Secret Earth, that trademark haze still presided over the entire proceeding. So it was much to my surprise to hear the first track “Empire” off of this year’s Patience.
By no means is this opener tame; even in its natal seconds, it makes no pretense of being anything less than a full-bodied psychedelic jammer. No vocals are present (which is the case for the entirety of Patience), but the strange, new aspect is this sonic clarity, not to mention the heavy presence of rock idioms. The percussion is steady and clear, and behind the nagging guitar squalor, well-defined, mounting riffs are present. For the first 10 minutes of “Empire,” The Dead C seem to almost be engaged in a funeral march. Although this sound may be unfamiliar to me, unsurprisingly, the track is immensely affecting. But halfway through, “Empire’s” form dissipates, dissolving into scattered percussion and aimless feedback, much more reminiscent of my Dead C.
After an intermission of “Federation’s” sparse cymbals and restrained reverb, the listener finds herself firmly in formative Dead C territory. The screeching, processed guitar and hypnotic drumming of “Shaft” could just as easily have been a B-side to Harsh 70’s Reality. The final track, “South,” is a random walk of white-hot noise, wherein a near constant hiss is accompanied by Michael Morley and Bruce Russell’s rambling dissonances. The trio occasionally lock into a groove, but by the time any rhythmic comfort can be found, their sound deconstructs itself into a mess as abrasive as The Dead C’s finest moments.
In retrospect, I fundamentally erred in assuming that there could exist a definitive Dead C sound. For a band that is practically old money noise and never anything less than challenging, it is silly to conjecture that any universal descriptor could apply, save the band’s name and members. If anything, The Dead C’s recent history alone — the obtuse Future Artists succeeded by the decidedly less bizarro Secret Earth — disproves any such claim. It seems the only proper thing to say about Patience is that it is yet another stellar LP in a rich and storied tradition of stellar Dead C records.