Des Roar may look back to Phil Spector pop for inspiration, but there’s a leering, lurking Lynchian creepiness in what they do. And they’re not exactly a pop band. Punk would be a better way to describe them – in a genuine sense. Des Roar’s kind of punk goes back to bands like the Jesus & Mary Chain or even the Dead Boys, when punk meant breaking any rules around rather than playing harmless, conformist, G-rated uh-AW-oh songs, the kind of stuff that Jello Biafra calls “shut up and shop music.” They’re at Rough Trade on Feb 18 at around 11 preceded at around 10 by retro soul band the Jay Vons. Advance tix are $10.
Like a lot of bands who got their start in the zeroes, it’s been awhile since Des Roar put out an album. Their most recent one, Mad Things, came out in 2009 and is still out there, streaming at Grooveshark. The centerpiece, a real classic, is Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man. The version here is a lot cleaner and janglier than the absolutely harrowing version on the band’s 2008 debut release, When in Rome, but the pouncing stalker blues tune fits the creepy, sarcastic lyric. “He killed 38 women in five different states, it’s getting out of hand,” frontman/guitarist Ben Wolcott deadpans. Likewise, the gleefully menacing, swaying Confessions of a White Widowed Male, a chronicle of 36 fewer murders fueled by lead player Alan O’Keeffe’s echoey slide guitar.
The brooding, amped-up minor-key new wave tune King of Cuffs raises the suspense by keeping it at arm’s length: it wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of legendary dark NYC new wavers DollHouse. Wolcott’s deadpan menace and savage sarcasm match the blackly propulsive groove of The Ballad of Little Bangs, a gorgeous, classic late 70s-style powerpop number pushed along by Ryan Spoto’s bass and Lyla Vander’s drums.
The J&MC – who Des Roar like to cover onstage – are evoked most visibly on the careening, swaying Sparrow, a sideways tribute to a now-dead Oxycontin addict; the savage Daddy’s Girl, a kiss-off to a rich bitch who has to run away and “hide in the hills…cause nobody’s gonna take your shit anymore;” and Finish What You Started, which Vander sings. The callous When in Rome, with its faux Motown groove, keeps the cruel sarcasm front and center: “You’re just my New York City fling.” Wolcott sneers. Vander and Wolcott duet on How Much Is Too Much – it’s practically punk Abba, but too funny/creepy, especially when she threatens to throw acid in the face of any girl who messes with her guy.
There are also a couple of less overtly hostile numbers here: Baby You’re Too Young, which evokes the Clash’s cover of Booker T’s Time Is Tight, and Not Over for Me, akin to Sonny and Cher doing a secondhand Lee Hazlewood soul-blues tune but with gritty 80s production values.
Des Roar also have a Soundcloud page with a bunch of first-class singles, including the horror surf-inflected The Watchers; the downstroke punk-pop of Watch Your Step, which the Strokes only wish they had the balls to have written; the grimy Diddleybeat surf-punk Hallucinations, and the Link Wray-inspired Paranoia.