This is one of those songs that helps me realize how much I like a certain musical circumstance that I never previously would have recognized or been able to articulate. And that circumstance is: when a small moment in a song, via repetition and unfolding context, becomes one of the song’s very best things, only you couldn’t have known it from the first time you heard it. I’m not sure you can plan this out, even.
The moment I’m talking about here is the way the guitar slides up and down between two notes to create that lazy/insistent riff that fuels the song. We first encounter it after the long droney introduction, when the guitar finally starts moving (around 0:28), and at first you don’t much notice it. You’re still pretty much waiting for something to happen. The vocals start at 0:40 and I immediately like the processing involved, which achieves the contradictory effect of making it sound “garage-y” and sophisticated at the same time. We seem to be in standard three-chord territory here except, hold on, a fourth chord sneaks in there at 0:54 and it’s non-standard—sounds like a suspended chord of some kind—and it provides a bit of simple complexity that helps mold the song into such a satisfying ride. And then we’re back to those sliding guitar notes, which now propel a chorus that otherwise consists only of the words “When I’m dead,” repeated. And it’s the guitar that glues it together, something in the offhanded way it slinks up and down that seems, again, both primitive and discerning at the same time. That it can be the end of 2012 and that new bands exist making this kind of straightforward rock’n’roll and can still make it sound this electrifying, well, all hope is not lost. For anything. Not bad for a song called “When I’m Dead.”
The Dead Heads are a five-man band from Sydney, formed in either 2009 or 2010, depending on which web source you consult. They are fronted on vocals and guitars by the brothers Oscar and Ali Jeffrey. As you can hear from the music, the band’s name has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead; it derives, according to the band, from one of the dictionary meanings for “deadhead,” which is “a partially submerged log or trunk.” MP3 via the Australian new music site Triple J Unearthed; thanks to music blog The Mad Mackerel for the head’s up.