Is it dirty art rock or arty dirt rock? Rock music you can dance to or dance music you can rock to? Whatever you want to call Derdang Derdang, the Archie Bronson Outfit’s second full-length, the word “rock” had better be in there somewhere because, whatever its other qualities, rock it most definitely does. Pitched somewhere between Pere Ubu’s theatrical postpunk and the Stooges’ scuzzbucket skronk, between Gang of Four’s anxious funk and the Gun Club’s oozy blues, Derdang Derdang is Dada garage of the highest order, 11 ballads of sexual dependency that throb like a migraine and twitch like a tweaker’s eyelid. Like so many great English bands before them, the members of this South London-based trio met in art school, where they learned how to make a little go a long way. Although the Archie Bronson Outfit will inevitably be compared with labelmates the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, who have a similar libido for minimalist clangor, ABO seems more essential somehow, less ironic and evasive. The band goes straight for the reptilian part of the listener’s brain, the region that traffics in primitive responses — instinct over intellect, ritual over reason. ABO’s music is simple the way that a puncture wound is simple: It is what it is, and it can’t be ignored.
Like Fur, ABO’s 2004 debut, Derdang Derdang throttles the id and largely ignores the superego. All of its images — dust and lust, fat cherry lips and bunching fists, bloody noses and frozen tears — boil down to sex and death. These songs are brilliant and stupid, brilliantly stupid like Missy Elliott or Samuel Beckett, so base and ugly and true that they resist any form of abstraction. Take “Dart for My Sweetheart,” the doggedly catchy first single, which could have been subtitled “The Twelve Days of Sexmas.” It begins with the line “One is a gun with a dart for my sweetheart,” proceeds in ascending numerical order, and ends with “Twelve I’ll take you like only I can.” Or consider “Dead Funny,” a deliberately dunderheaded disco anthem: “I am a deep-sea diver, so I am gonna dive down on you. . . . I am a lone horse rider, I’m gonna ride on you.” Forget the fancy wordplay, the clever puns of lesser songwriters; drummer/lyricist Mark “Arp” Cleveland is the master of the single entendre.
Although there’s a certain dopey magnificence in Cleveland’s monosyllables, the crux of their appeal is contextual. Cleveland’s drumming is, like his lyrics, brutally direct, a visceral tom-tom barrage. Singer/guitarist Sam Windett squawks and shrieks his bandmate’s lines like a tortured parrot; when language fails him, which is often, he yelps and grunts. Sometimes he’s joined by a sickly clarinet and a mewling soprano sax, which cut through the sludgy swamp dirges like a caustic, and occasionally a bevy of female singers chime in with dispassionate ooohs and doo-doo-doos. Factor in Dorian Hobday’s seesawing hooks, the itchy riffage and needly counterpoint that the rockcrit cliché dictionary defines as “angular,” and Windett is a dead ringer for Pere Ubu’s David Thomas.
If the tracks start to sound a little samey after a while, the melodies stuck in the mire of postpunk hypno-drone, well, that’s the downside of stylistic consistency. When everything comes together, as on the killer opening trilogy of “Cherry Lips,” “Kink,” and “Dart for My Sweetheart,” the groove is so monstrous that monotony seems like an asset, not a flaw. It’s almost as if the songs stop being songs, with discrete parts that you can distinguish and dissect, and turn into something altogether stranger and more powerful, a narcotic mantra of sexual mania that doesn’t describe the experience so much as enact it.