Few releases in my recent memory begin in such a memorable way as Being Dead opens their EP collection Fame Money Death by Drive By. “Red Drive” opens the studio release in such a way you may find yourself wondering if you are listening to a Dead Can Dance release by accident with an introduction revolving around choral vocals and the ambient sound of a burning structure interspersed between vocal lines. Being Dead subvert the retro influences fueling their art in an entertaining way thanks to the juxtaposition of uncluttered arrangements and dark lyrical material once the song commences in full. Being Dead jettison the ornate vocal style opening the song in favor of a pop flavored guitar driven second half, but they thankfully cannot resist the temptation to overturn listener’s expectations near the conclusion with stunning shifts in tone and sound.
The guitar playing on the EP’s second song “Underworld” is as tasty as anything we hear with the first track. The same themes dominate – Being Dead mixes foreboding lyrical ideas with near joyous vocals and bright musical backing that creates an inherent tension in the performance certain to ensnare listeners by the score. Jackal’s vocals are unusual in many respects, cut from a different cloth than what we are accustomed to from traditional efforts in this style, but she brings a wealth of emotion to the duo’s unusual lyrics. The EP’s third song “Apostles’ Prom” begins with memorable acapella vocals before transitioning into a languid tempo laced with light dissonance. The acapella start to the song is what draws me in, however – it is yet more proof Being Dead is quite at home with upending their listener’s expectations.
“Hot Car”, for me, is the EP’s magnum opus – their influences hint towards reaching back even further with this number, embracing a near 50’s vibe with its deliberate opening, before launching into a headlong musical attack that hallucinatory acts like Hawkwind might find familiar. One of the keys to Being Dead’s success is how they co-opt traditional styles and spike them with economical, never self-indulgent sonic touches that push them over the edge into nightmare.
The ambient clatter of the finale for “Hot Car” shifts into the slaughterhouse vibe of the EP’s last song “Used Up”. You don’t hear Juli Jackal’s vocal presence in this song except for a smattering of spoken word just before its conclusion; the remainder of the brief song’s vocals is dominated by wild-eyed screaming from the other half of Being Dead, Cody Flowersworth. It is an abrasive final blow that spares no one. This isn’t Being Dead’s first release, but their fourth studio release Fame Money Death by Drive By raises the bar higher than before and sets them further apart in their own musical universe. It is an unsettling ride, but it is impossible for to not appreciate the dark humor, intelligence, and unity defining this release. Not everyone will feel the same, but I am willing to bet many will and feel compelled to explore their past recordings as well.