For much of its lifespan, Bass Drum of Death was a one-man show. Mississippi’s own multi-instrumentalist John Barrett created the project back in 2008 as an outlet for his fuzzy garage rock and cynical songwriting. You heard his sonic onslaught of distortion and guitar effects start to define its edges on albums like 2014’s Rip This, which saw Barrett turn his attention to punk power chords and more studio-sounding recordings. That album also marked the first time Barrett collaborated, bringing in touring drummer Len Clark to assist on the album. This time around, Barrett is bringing more than just a drummer with Say I Won’t, Bass Drum of Death’s latest studio album. The 12-track LP sees Barrett traversing the whole recording process with a full band backing him, creating their most full-sounding album to date while entering a whole new realm of melody that makes the wait for new BDoD all the more worth it.
Say I Won’t is a demanding listen that seems to be the perfect concoction of BDoD’s past and future. The tracklist is a mixed bag of different sonic soundscapes that aren’t unfamiliar to the band but until this latest release, lived in separate worlds. Songs like the title track bridge their career together as the harsh guitar distortion cuts through the record while still leaving enough room for Barrett’s infectious crooning. It’s almost as if the frontman is collaborating with his younger self, allowing room for his sound to grow without losing touch of his home-recorded roots.
Bringing in a full band for the album is one of the best things to happen to Barrett’s brainchild. The arrangements on Say I Won’t are more complex and diverse than anything the band has released, you can hear their power-punk influences truly take shape. This new formation for BDoD does wonders for their instrumentation, a moment like “Say Your Prayers” is a prime example of how Barrett’s newly formed band allowed for their sound to truly find its footing. The harmonies that bellow during the intro transform into a stuttering composition featuring baritone drums and woozy guitar riffs with a sneering melody for the perfect final touch. Without this full band, some of the best moments on the album might not have been possible. They rounded out the sound Barrett seems to always be striving for and in-turn crafted unforgettable moods like the echoing haunt of “No Soul” or the album’s thrashing opener “Find It”.
While the musicianship of the album is the biggest change for the band, Barrett’s approach to melody also transformed itself. All over the album you hear his signature snarl bend and twist itself into moments of bliss then right back to the angst-filled sneering we love from Barrett. A song like “Wait” with its minimalistic structure allows Barrett to not only experiment with new tones in his delivery but really stretch his vocal chords to new octavies, providing a certain warmth to this otherwise menacing record. Barrett sounds reborn on Say I Won’t, his melodies are brighter and that teenage-edge we were introduced to in 2008 has transformed itself into a fearless creative approach, carrying the same energy as an angry youth while still pushing itself into uncharted waters.
On past albums like the aforementioned Rip This, the band’s dive into more conventional tones in their music sort of softened their sound, a certain attitude was lost in their more polished approach. Say I Won’t has the band finding that edge again. In just 35 minutes you feel you are introduced to a new side of Barrett, a more mature songwriter who allows the past and future to shed light on the present without dimming the moment. Collaboration is a good color on Bass Drum of Death as Barrett looking to outside opinions allowed for his ideas to take full form and provide us with 12 tracks of unfiltered rock with enough melody to plant itself firmly in your psyche and remind you of what album to throw on when you need to get lost in a cloud of harmonious garage rock.