Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: Do You Have a Deaf Wish?

The Melbourne-based quartet channels Sonic Youth on their new EP through Sub Pop,
By    August 20, 2015

deaf wish

Douglas Martin breaks backs like Bob Backlund.

To compare Melbourne-based quartet Deaf Wish to a certain historic art-rock band who spawned an entire generation of art-rock bands could be considered picking the low-hanging fruit. But at the same time, the fruit that hangs lowest on the branch is sometimes the sweetest. We might as well get to brass tax first: Even at their least-inspired, Deaf Wish is still one of the world’s better Sonic Youth cover bands, and there are certainly worse groups in the history of rock music to be compared to.

Which is not to say Pain, their immense, intense, and formidably replayable debut full-length, is the band with their worst foot forward. Just like on their St. Vincent’s EP, there are moments you could easily mistake for latter-period takes from Kim, Thurston, Lee, and Steve — to the point where they could very well wear Beatles-style shirts in their honor. But that would be to deny the EP’s title-track of its forward momentum, or “Cool Comment” of its squalling infectiousness, or “Radjik Beach” of its indelible Kim Gordon-like rumination on Freudian quasi-incest: “Mothers, lift up your skirts / Your sons are coming home.”

Sounding like another band probably shouldn’t be as much as a demerit as it usually is — I mean, it worked for Tame Impala on their first album — but Deaf Wish started to swipe techniques from other bands before the Sonic Youth thing became too well-worn.

Pain opens with a single-note dirge peeling scabs into a blistering flurry not wholly unlike one of the darker tracks from Total Control’s catalog. Throughout the album, there are hints of Ceremony (“Eyes Closed” in particular), the Wipers (“Dead Air”), and a couple obscure SST bands whom a lot of us would pretend to have heard of when cited by name. The bridge of “Pain” sounds like a grunge-era gravedigger’s party song: “If you’ve got a bottle, pass it around / If you’ve got a shovel, well, dig in the ground!” The remainder of the album’s title-track evokes the Stooges in a deeper part of hell than the Iggy Pop-fronted band already kicked molten rocks around.

There’s an alternate-tuned squall coasting in Deaf Wish’s songs, just above the surface that at once calls to attention so many bands that came before them and supersedes their predecessors. As Sonic Youth themselves once said, kill your idols. Coupled with its brisk running time (a shade over thirty minutes; the only SY full-lengths that even come close to being that brief are their first three), this assimilation of newfound influences come a long way toward Deaf Wish forming their own identity as a band.

But the formidable shadow of their primary reference point casts long over Pain, as “Sunset’s Fool” sounds like it could be a deep cut from Goo, “On” does the same for Dirty, and “Sex Witch” could easily be mistaken for a particularly inspired Gordon-led track from the Evol sessions, courtesy of Sarah Hardiman’s harrowing lead vocals.

“Calypso,” although pretty reminiscent of a could-have-been Sonic Nurse highlight (that album being one of Sonic Youth’s most underrated gems), Deaf Wish still makes it indelible, coasting a vibe and then splitting it apart with screaming feedback, with co-lead singer Jensen Tjhung calmly crooning: “Sometimes my life turns to noise, so I pray for peace.” A fitting mission statement if there was one, as Deaf Wish, a band still trying to find their voice but are inching ever closer, represents the latest in a long line of bands who find tranquility in dissonance.

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