As crazes come and go, I can usually figure out the mass-market appeal that drives people to love whatever the latest and greatest thing is. That doesn't mean I'm going to care in the slightest for any of them, but I can at least understand why everyone else trips over themselves chasing the latest fad. The one that I have yet to come to grips with is the zombie craze. The undead have become the biggest thing going, from the slower than paint drying “The Walking Dead”, to movie after movie after movie featuring the lumbering corpses rotted back to life. Through all of it, the appeal is completely lost on me. Why I would want to spend my time investing in monsters that say nothing, do little, and can be defeated by walking at a brisk pace, is a mystery I should charge the great Hercule Poirot with.
I say this because Death Valley High is the musical equivalent of a zombie movie, and not just for the obvious rhetorical comparisons. The music on “Positive Euth” is the same sort of trendy appeal that flies straight over my head. “Bath Salt Party” opens the record with a one trick pony of a song, beating the same riff and cadence for the entirety of it's admittedly brief running time. Whereas a band like Queens Of The Stone Age were able to get away with such a trick by using the construction to beat a lame joke into the ground, Death Valley High's version lacks the subtlety I would never have previously ascribed to the Queens.
The following song, “The Present”, borrows the jerking rhythm of the aforementioned Queens biggest song, and again fails to live up to the blueprint it is built from. The riff is just not quite sharp enough, and the rest of the song can't push it over the hump. The whole thing comes across feeling like an unfinished sketch, waiting for something to connect the dots. Instead, the whole thing is the dots, which defeats the purpose of the game.
“How2Kill” improves things, letting the song breathe a bit more with an extended length, but also with more than one noticeable section to the composition. Between the better structure, and the cloying falsetto bursts, it's the first sign that the band has some real life in them. Of course, that doesn't last long, with “Fingernail Marks” being a mainstream attempt at grindcore. It's one minute of chugging guitars and completely unintelligible lyrics, all of which adds up to more of a question mark than a song. I can't say I understand the point of including such a song on an album that isn't dedicated to offending the listener.
The wild swings keep coming as the record unfolds. “Batdanse” reverts to the slightly more commercial sound, where the stop/start riff is well-placed, and the vocals are able to connect as something more than blinding rage. Like “How2Kill”, this is the kind of music that I could see appealing to more than a niche audience.
“Cinema Verité” may be the oddest song on the record, because it's the one track that tries hardest to be mainstream. The requisite angst is still there, but the song uses that as a springboard to the most melodic chorus on the entire album. Balancing the elements helps give them each their place to shine, which the song is able to do relatively well. It only makes me wish there was more material like this to hear.
Death Valley High has an identity crisis. On the one hand, they make music that is firmly rooted in the underground, and the distaste for anything commercial. But they also have a toe dipped in the pool of the mainstream, and the dichotomy of the record dooms it. Fans of either side of the band will hate the other, and I can't imagine many people falling in love with both.