Ever since last fall, when Death From Above 1979 released a full-length debut, ''You're a Woman, I'm a Machine," critics have been working overtime to label the remarkable two-man racket made by bassist Jesse Keeler and singer-drummer Sebastien Grainger.
The Canadian band's music has been described as everything from ''stoner rock" to ''disco hard core." Keeler, who once took the bait by calling his duo ''a pop band in wolf's clothing," now steadfastly refuses to engage in such conversations.
''I'm using a quote I saw the other day -- 'Talking about music is like singing about football,' " Keller says in a recent telephone interview during a tour that will bring them to the Middle East Downstairs on Monday. Or, as Elvis Costello once said, ''like dancing about architecture," although if one could do such an abstract thing, DFA '79 could provide as appropriate a soundtrack as anyone.
Perhaps people have difficulty branding this band because the sound is so tough to peg. Yes, it is savagely loud, but it's a remarkable noise, not just volume for the sake of volume. With bludgeoning riffs so big they could cause concussions, the songs boast a Zeppelin heft and groove with almost as much craftsmanship and polish, creating a frenetic barrage of sound and fury, signifying the arrival of a ferocious new rock band.
Already, DFA '79 has earned comparison to the White Stripes, modern rock's most conspicuous duo, although Jack White plays guitar while his ex-wife, Meg, mans the drum kit. Originally members of the Canadian hard-core band Femme Fatale, Keeler and Grainger formed Death From Above, and released a six-song EP, ''Heads Up!" in late 2002. It garnered both good and bad attention, the latter in the form of threatened legal action from an existing record label with the same name. This eventually forced the band's numerical addendum. (Perhaps not coincidentally, 1979 is also the year of Grainger's birth.)
DFA '79 has also distinguished itself with feral, sweaty, roof-rattling live shows, although Keeler says he gets ''a little worried" about the band's growing reputation for its concerts.
''I think people come to the show expecting us to do the same things they've heard about in other shows," he says. ''Early in his career, Jimi Hendrix used to do shows where he was playing the guitar with his teeth, and setting it on fire, but then he decided he just wanted to be a blues-rock guy who played great guitar. But people expected all that other stuff, and he would be booed if he didn't do it."
That's one of the drawbacks to touring, although as far as Keeler is concerned, it certainly isn't the only one. On this day, he isn't feeling particularly well. He's nursing a nasty head cold, and he apologizes for sounding as if he's underwater. (Actually, he's in Milwaukee.) On the road, when you can't get enough decent food or rest, the body rebels, even as the shows must go on.
And then there's the matter of playing the same songs night after night.
''Imagine being a painter, and you create this wonderful picture," Keeler says. ''People think it's great, and they say, 'Hey, come to our town and redo that same painting,' and then someone else says, 'Can you redo that picture in our town?' And you keep redoing that same painting over and over again. That's what touring is like."
To stay fresh, DFA '79 tries to experiment and improvise in concert -- not only for the audience, but for themselves as well.
''With a two-piece, you can only pull things so far in any direction without getting lost, and that's happened, too, though I doubt anyone other than us notices," he says. ''But that keeps it a little bit interesting."
And, they do it all with nary a guitar in sight, although Keeler, who also plays keyboards, insists that the band's drum-and-bass construction isn't designed as an anti-guitar statement.
''I think keyboards are the most important instrument because you can do so much with them," he says.
''But I love guitars, man, and I still love playing them. I only started playing bass in this band to see if we could do something different."