It would just be too easy to compare Los Angeles duo Deap Vally to Heart. While guitarist Lindsey Troy and drummer Julie Edwards are as righteously in-synch as the Wilson sisters and they spit rad, empowering lyrics, they’ve carved a unique niche for themselves in the current indie rock scene. The sound they’ve developed is all their own: bluesy riffs, powerful vocals, and meticulously tight drumming.
I caught the band’s set at Project Pabst in Portland this past weekend. I came for the lyrics but stayed for their compelling stage presence. Troy’s voice and stance on stage is pure dynamite. Moving around with admirable energy in the midday sun during their Project Pabst show, Troy stomped and thrashed on her guitar. Edwards was a different kind of power: she seemed to almost smolder, her pink hair flipping front to back as she smacked her drum kit with mastery.
In a few words, Deap Vally’s first full-length album feels a little like a bar fight. Released last year on Island Records, Sistrionix is blunt, angry, and biting. I was not sure what to make of Troy’s vocals at first, but they’ll definitely grow on you—her voice is thick and full-bodied, a little harsh and with an interesting range. The opening track, “End of the World” has a quality reminiscent of Jack White in that it steadily marches along, spitting truisms until the chorus slinks around beneath the vocals. Throughout its entirety, Sistrionix is smart and gripping, staying strong with the blues-rock genre.
Together only since 2011 and with only one full-length album and one EP (Get Deap) under their belt, Deap Vally is fairly new to the scene. Troy and Edwards apparently met at a needlework class where Edwards was teaching Troy how to crochet (see: Wikipedia). This domestic picture fades quite quickly as you see the pair perform. With flying hair and growling vocals, they’re a vision of controlled chaos. Edwards’ cymbals are spot-on, with a steadily thumping kick drum nicely reigning in Troy’s throaty riffs. Troy and Edwards established their feminist leanings in their first single “Gonna Make My Own Money.” Answering to those who say she should marry rich, Troy asserts “Gonna make my own money/gonna buy my own land.”
Being assertive comes easily to Deap Vally. On their label’s website, they state: “We are valley girls. We sing the blues. We play rock’n’roll. We sweat. We move. We groove.” On Sistrionix song “Walk of Shame,” Troy is delightfully brazen: “Baby I don’t feel no blame/’Cause I got places to go/But I’ve got no change of clothes/Baby I don’t feel no blame/I’m gonna take this walk of shame.” It’s about time somebody addressed the kind of pride one can feel after a night of feeling sexually empowered.
Another highlight from the album is “New Material”—the song breaks down into a roughly textured cacophony with Troy and Edwards’ voices dueling until the very end. The closing song “Six Feet Under” is also a pleasant surprise. The guitar section feels much more extravagant and languid than previous sections of the album while Troy’s voice remains urgent and emotive on the chorus. This track is a nice change of pace as it creeps towards the album’s end, complete with all matter of howls and wails and whoops, though it would have been even better to see more experimentation on previous tracks.
With unexpected vocals and blunt lyrics, Deap Vally may leave a funny taste in the mouths of some, but their ability to mix the soulful and the sweet is done with just the right amount of salty.
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Miriam Karraker is a student, organizer, music nerd, creative nonfiction writer and poet living in Portland, Oregon. Photos courtesy of the band.