Dead Rider “wanna give you chills, not get you laid” on their third album Chills On Glass, says MacDara Conroy
Dead Rider answer a question I expect no one but me has thought to ask: what if US Maple went pop? Or better yet, what if that obtuse noise rock combo had focused on sensuality as a thing that’s felt, rather than in the abstract? Not that US Maple weren’t sexy in their own way; maybe ‘uncomfortably intimate’ is a more accurate way to put it. There’s something about Al Johnson’s inimitable vocals on those records, the way he breathes his lines in a manner that’s equally inviting (what the hell are you saying anyway?) and repulsive (ewww get away from me you creep!).
It adds a darkly sexual dimension to their decidedly unsexy anti-rock, comprising spasms of guitar abuse laid over sputtered rhythms that refuse to lock into a groove. That was no accident, either; in the live setting the band took some pride in trolling audiences with their hilarious rockist posturing. And I can’t even say that pride was twisted or perverted; I mean, what’s not to love about such an avant group throwing shapes like they’re Prince or something?
For anyone who got their shtick, there’s a lot to love about Dead Rider, guitarist Todd Rittman’s second post-Maple project – and one no doubt informed by his first, Singer, which matched those familiar knotty song constructions with the soulful pipes of Robert AA Lowe (Lichens, 90 Day Men) and made sex appeal an integral element, not just for contrast. That proof of concept is more fully realised in Dead Rider’s songs, busy with glitched-out cut-ups, woozy synths and Rittman’s surprisingly sexy Al Johnson-meets-Jamie Lidell vocal stylings. TV On The Radio is another reference point, as there’s more than a hint of their gritty neo-art-soul throughout Chills On Glass, Dead Rider’s third LP and first for Drag City.
It’s not in the aesthetic as such – that tightly composed randomness is US Maple to a tee – but definitely in the feeling, that raw raunch in the shuffle of ‘New Eyes’, the smouldering ‘Blank Screen’ or the swagger and swing of ‘Of One Thousand’, not to mention titles like ‘Sex Grip Enemy’ and ‘The Unnatural Act’ that exhibit a directness US Maple always eschewed (can you imagine them with lyrics about made-up dances like the ‘Bag of Hammers’ or the ‘Box of Rocks’?).
But these guys are experimentalists at heart (keyboardist Andrea Faught and hornblower Thymme Jones come from veteran art-rock ensemble Cheer-Accident) and that avant streak is just as important; for every track that drips with sweaty allure, there’s the bristling oddness of ‘Weird Summer’ or the rumbling instrumental ‘Four Cocks’ to keep you on edge. As sexy as this record can be, Dead Rider wanna give you chills, not get you laid.