Coming Around Again

Rich Morel masterfully guides the new Deathfix, as Tegan and Sara mine new, more mainstream material

By Doug Rule
Published on February 28, 2013, 12:49pm | Comments

''I'm, out of my mind. It's taking me over,'' Rich Morel sings in the bridge of ''Low Lying Dreams.'' And the song might have the same effect on you too. It's both beautiful and eerie, a piano-based, string-swept ballad in the psychedelic/electronic rock mold.

And there's plenty more where that came from on the self-titled debut from Morel's new band Deathfix. In addition to Morel on vocals and keyboard, the band includes vocalist and guitarist Brendan Canty, previously known as Fugazi's drummer, plus drummer Devin Ocampo and bassist Mark Cisneros, both from local garage-rock band Medications. Deathfix is a D.C.-grown affair through and through – signed to D.C.'s storied punk label Dischord, no less – and one certainly worthy of hometown pride.


Obviously, you'll need to get past any hang-ups you might have on account of the band's name. The lively, wide-ranging, widely appealing sound will certainly help the cause.

Every listener is bound to hear different influences on the band, depending on their own biases. In my case, at various points on the self-titled, seven-track set, I keep hearing late-era Beatles, early Elton John, a hint of Radiohead, and a whole lot of David Bowie – and not just because there's a hazy, progressive rock jam called ''Mind Control.''

There's also another clear influence here that is directly name-checked – even playfully swiped at – on ''Dali's House.'' Remember ''Daft Punk Is Playing At My House'' by LCD Soundsystem? Well, ''Dali's House'' is a spitting image of that catchy, funk-fueled electronic ditty, in which LCD's James Murphy hilariously, hyperbolically boasted about throwing great house parties. Here, Morel metaphorically talks about the famous people he likes, or really would like to have inside him, his body as a home - from Jane Birkin to Kanye West to the song's namesake Salvador Dali. And then, this: ''I wish I was, James Murphy's house,'' he talk-sings. ''Because you could steal ideas and Daft Punk's always playing there.'' Well played, Rich.

Deathfix ends with the nine-minute-long ''Transmission,'' a song in three movements that ends in a trippy, even strung-out, prog-rock blissful place, complete with wailing saxophone, cacophonous guitars and what sounds ever-so-faintly like a bagpipe. By this point, if you're not out of your mind, you're not listening to it right.

DOWNLOAD THESE: ''Low Lying Dreams,'' ''Dali's House''

ASK ME IF I LIKE THE NEW TEGAN AND SARA record Heartthrob, and the answer might vary depending on the day. You could say I'm ''hot n cold'' toward the set, to bring Katy Perry into the discussion – and to a certain extent, the twins are obviously trying to bring Perry into it. (You can't help but hear the influence of Perry's ''The One That Got Away'' on ''I Couldn't Be Your Friend,'' for example.) With super-producer Greg Kurstin (Pink, Lily Allen, even Kesha) on board, the album is an unquestionable stab at trying for mainstream success, after roughly 13 years of being cult favorites and indie-rock darlings.

Tegan and Sara
Warner Bros.

A month of listening to the set hasn't fully swayed me one way or the other: I didn't like how the girls' edges have been mostly roughed away on the first few listens, though eventually, I got some of the melodies lodged in my head, and I caught myself listening to the set on repeat. Naturally, I had to admit then and there, in fact, I do like it. And so it goes, in an endless loop: One day, I listen to it a couple times through; another, I start and stop, deciding I've had enough.

At the least, their harmonized singing remains unmistakably Tegan and Sara, and many of the lyrics are clever and playful, some still bearing the Tegan and Sara trademark of being amusingly self-deprecating and self-contradictory. ''Go if you want, I can't stop you,'' they sing on the break-up ballad ''Now I'm All Messed Up,'' before then cooing a beg in the background, ''Please stay!''

That's one of at least two tracks I haven't actually wavered in liking. The other is the striking, austere set closer ''Shock To Your System,'' featuring a light tribal rhythm and a message of commiseration after a breakup. ''What you are is lonely,'' they shout, as a chorus sweetly coos in response.

DOWNLOAD THESE: ''Now I'm All Messed Up,'' ''Shock To Your System''