Making music that's ugly, antagonistic, and just plain deranged, but on the surface approachable by anyone within earshot, has been Britt Teusink's M.O. since he took the reins as singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter behind the carnival-esque hell ride that was A. Grimes. When that group came together in 2010, his intentions were solely to scare the piss out of listeners with a snarling and confrontational stomp, wrapped in gypsy-esque dirges of reverb, distortion, and lyrical themes of depression. But as A. Grimes petered out, in its place deadCAT has become the center of his attention. Teusink, along with bass player Gage Gilmore and drummer Eric Grantham, have tackled a much broader emotional spectrum as a collaborative unit. Throughout a handful of online albums, EPs, and singles, deadCAT's songs have reached beyond the range of personal nihilism to embrace a stylistically grotesque aesthetic that lies at the crossroads of hip-hop, art-pop, and textured minimalism.
This is not to say that deadCAT's first proper album, Transientualism (Psych Army Intergalactic), is a harsh listening experience. Sonically speaking, the album is quite easy on the ears, and it isn't until each song's lyrics settle into the brain that their disturbing themes and imagery take shape. By dismantling the framework of traditional pop songwriting, the group has constructed an album where each number builds upon a foundation of unwavering rhythms, driving beats, and subtle shifts in tempo that underscore a chain of moods at once serene and ecstatic.
Transientualism opens with "Glossolalia," a luxuriant number that sets a buoyant tone and keeps the energy flowing throughout the album's duration. Things kick off with a menacing mantra: "I can't feel my face now, chasing my hair, inside stare/Forever speaking in tongues, bleeding from gums/Cut my tether, don't ring my neck, the retrospect is never."
It's an intense stream of consciousness salvo that resonates throughout such standout songs as "Wet Heat," "Mustard Tiger," and "Mirrored Mirrors." Each one remains suspended in a balance of constricting bass and drum clusters bound together by an electronic musical fabric. Nowhere is this dynamic more intense than the instrumental jam "Eggs' at Roach Denny's."
As other songs ("Frequent Fortunes," "Flights," and "Sex+Death") unfold, comparisons to Animal Collective circa Strawberry Jam and even Merriweather Post Pavilion become somewhat unavoidable.
Both groups found common ground on a similar sonic terrain from which they've built the base for their respective abstract musical vocabularies. But the similarities end there. If anything, deadCAT has emerged as a diabolical nemesis to Animal Collective's most potent era. The group's psychoactive delirium stands as a counterpart from a parallel universe where any and all hippy-dippy musical and conceptual inclinations have been swapped out for Teusink's dark, psychological ramblings. Transientualism bleeds with a visceral sophistication that harnesses the power of all the ugliness and antagonism that have been a part of Teusink's repertoire all along. Here, these elements have been broken down to their basic parts, smoothed out, and transformed with a propulsive motion. Where deadCAT goes from here remains to be seen, but the album feels like one giant step for a band that's just discovered its legs.