dEUS – Keep You Close (Play It Again Sam)
By Princess Stomper
For a second or two before pressing play, I held my breath, apprehensive. It had been a long time since I’d seen Tom Barman. Fifteen years since we’d last hung out, and over a decade since I’d last seen his face staring up at me from sleeve art. I didn’t really connect with The Ideal Crash (1999). I didn’t hate it, but it just didn’t hit me like the first two albums, and so dEUS became yet another band I almost forgot. It’s like getting a call from an old lover and you can’t remember why you ever broke up. So you agree to a date and stand by the doorway, wondering if you’ll still recognise them. Holding your breath. Apprehensive.
It’s love at first sight, just like the first time. Fleetingly, you think they haven’t aged a day until you notice the character-lines from the intervening years. They’re still lovely, but dEUS have the poise and self-assurance that only comes with decades of experience. In their youth, dEUS were frantic, wild and unpredictable. Keep You Close is still wonderfully varied, but more cohesive than their first two albums. It has the accessibility of The Ideal Crash but is altogether more interesting.
It’s the kind of interesting where Greg Dulli singing on a track is the least fascinating thing about it. The songs are simple and straightforward, over which instruments are layered up like the icing on some prize-winning cake. There are fleeting moments where I’m reminded of VAST and Levitation and the Monsoon Bassoon, although the overall effect is roughly what would happen if Sufjan Stevens at his loopiest produced a Foo Fighters album. The last few seconds of the title track send shivers down my spine.
So, yes, the album has strings. Very lush ones. Dirty, fuzzy bass. Xylophones. Woodwind. Strident, plonking piano. Yet all of it is understated, like something you’d hear in a classy bar at 3am. That effortless sophistication has always been a hallmark of dEUS – something they have carried over into their various side-projects. Eclectic eccentricity that would seem forced or pretentious from other acts are just the company stamp of dEUS, inc.
Big, epic, emotional ballad ‘Twice’ (featuring that Afghan Whig) is genuinely affecting. The breezy brass of single ‘Constant Now’ would make prime Steely Dan envious. Closer ‘Easy’ starts with the most absurdly portentous piano before unleashing unexpected chord structures and synths only just the right side of Jeff Wayne. By this point, I think dEUS are teasing me, but I’m smiling too much to mind.
There’s that giggle-inducing bliss as those guitars on ‘Second Nature’ entwine, that wobbly bass on ‘The Final Blast’ and the irresistibly toe-tapping ‘Ghosts’. I’m glowing, warm and fuzzy with misplaced pride that this once-beloved band have charmed me yet again.
How can I not smile?
Stream Keep You Close at Soundcloud.