The Dead Science formed in 2000, when an 18-year-old Sam Mickens joined brothers Jherek and Korum Bischoff for what would become an unusual combination of experimental jazz and brooding rock. The project came as an addition to part of the group’s initial inclusion in Xiu Xiu and the Degenerate Art Ensemble (the latter of which Jherek Bischoff is still a member). But the Dead Science has been blossoming into a creative force capable of holding its own, connections or no.
One of the most captivating aspects of the band’s music is that every sound is crucial. On the band’s 2003 debut, Submariner, delicate jazz-style percussion gave way to Jherek Bischoff’s bass, the real driving force behind the album’s sophisticated sound. Combined with Mickens’s aggressively frail guitar strum and smooth hush (either too sexual or too somber to fit the Chet Baker comparison often granted him), the Dead Science found itself with a record that combined perfect ratios of gritty and soothing.
And now there is Frost Giant. Released almost exactly one year after Bird Bones in the Bughouse (an EP that essentially served as a continuation of Submariner), Frost Giant displays the Dead Science as a pop band that dabbles in jazz and rock, which the group initially strove for when it formed. Mickens’s love of Prince comes through in his exaggerated, vibrating falsetto, which is much more strained than the near-croon he offered in his earlier days with the band. Drummer Korum Bischoff is gradually phased out – new addition Nick Tamburro (who joined shortly after 2004’s Bird Bones and has since taken over as live drummer) plays on all but three tracks. Interestingly enough, Tamburro almost gives the group more of a punk edge and has the energy to pull off the more rock-oriented songs here, of which there are more than on previous releases. Bischoff remains for the album’s three softest songs, continuing to provide a delicate backdrop for prominent melodies.
The Dead Science also thrives on attention to detail, which prevents the members from making their pop style forgettable. There’s quite a bit of mimicry and drawn influence; “Black Stockings” almost borrows the brilliant drum pattern of Joy Division’s “Atrocity Exhibition.” The recurring bass line in “Drrrty Magneto” (a fantastic live track, to note) is later echoed in the much softer “The Future, Forever.”
Where the record’s particulars fall a bit short, however, is in Mickens’s new vocal style. He has a naturally beautiful, if not seductive, voice that could technically adapt well to traditional jazz. He used this to his advantage on previous releases, but certain points on Frost Giant find him exaggerating his falsetto to the point where he seems to parody himself – his background vocal track on “Drrrty Magneto,” for example, which would be otherwise perfect.
The Dead Science is one of the best secrets to slowly emerge from the Seattle music scene, and in their brief time together, the members have proven they’re not afraid to set themselves apart. Referring to their inclusion of “Sign Your Name” (made famous by Terence Trent D’arby) on 2004’s Bird Bones, Mickens claimed that it simply occurred to the group how underrated and beautiful the song was while listening to it on the road one day. With this kind of mindset – one that shows off the band’s willingness to experiment and grow – the Dead Science can potentially transform from Seattle’s best-kept secret into a creative force that influences a new crop of young artists not unlike themselves.
“White Train” MP3 (Submariner)
“Gamma Knife” (Bird Bones in the Bughouse)