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Tim Heidecker’s ‘Fear of Death’ and the life of rock

| Monday, September 28, 2020

Liya Blitzer | The Observer

You, a modern music hater, says: “Rock is played out, man. There’s nothing that hasn’t already been done, and there’s no new ground to explore. The genre has been fractured into subgenre after subgenre and nothing remains that’s truly ‘rock.’ The most popular bands of today that could even pass as ‘rock’ — like Maroon 5 or Imagine Dragons — are overblown arena rock acts using scraps of the rock ethos to sell record after record. The greatest rock music and bands are in the past, and anyone who disagrees is clinging to a dead genre.”

Me, an astute and cultured individual, replies: “Rock may be played out, but that’s not a problem at all. It’s true that a lot of variations of rock have emerged — almost too many to count — but there’s still more to explore. The most popular bands may be a bit gaudy, but that’s been the case for the most popular rock acts at any time. For every one soulless chart-topping rock band, there are 1,000 more that still view selling out as a true evil and genuinely rock. And that last point about rock being dead and whatnot is just a baseless, attention-grabbing phrase to throw out when you want to have an opinion. Rock’s not dead. There’s a really interesting thing happening, that’s almost always happening in any genre, where modern artists dive into a rock subgenre and explore it. For example, Tim Heidecker’s ‘Fear of Death.’

Tim Heidecker is most commonly known as one half of the comedy duo Tim and Eric. Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Heidecker and Eric Wareheim created and starred in a number of television shows for Adult Swim. Their brand of distinct comedy, combining low production value, often grotesque jokes and truly absurdist humor, is a clear predecessor to some of the funniest shows on television today — see ‘Nathan For You’ and ‘I Think You Should Leave.’ While Heidecker created a good amount of humor-based music alongside his television productions, his recent work as a solo musician has toned down the comedy and turned to thoughtful songwriting and ‘70s soft rock aesthetics, although he still gets off a few jokes.

‘Fear of Death,’ the newest album from Heidecker, goes deep into ‘70s rock — as did his previous projects — but it emerges as his best work yet thanks to the help of new collaborators and its focus. Along with a number of talented musicians, Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering joins Heidecker on a number of tracks on the album, adding some necessary backup vocals, and she goes solo on the album’s terrific closing song, ‘Oh How We Drift Away.’ Mering’s phenomenal 2019 album, ‘Titanic Rising,’ explored living in a world of doom and death, a topic which guides Heidecker’s appropriately titled album.

It’s not all about doom and gloom, but death and the fear of it is the guiding focus of the album. That’s not to say it’s a sad album, as Heidecker’s musings are placed over breezy and fun soft rock arrangements which create the contrast that makes the album so interesting. On the project’s title track, steady drums and electric guitar riffs play under ruminations on dread and dying. ‘Backwards’ brings out the steel pedal to guide a country-inspired track on our collective devolution. ‘Nothing’ stares at the endless black void and meets it with a grand piano and balladry. ‘Property’ brings a dash of humor, asking how we’ll possibly resist turning cemeteries into ‘Property, money makin’ property.’  

Of course, ‘Fear of Death’ isn’t a revolutionary rock album. It doesn’t break any new sonic ground or push the genre into new territory. But it does extremely well with its channeling of ‘70s rock — creating arrangements that even the biggest modern music hater could enjoy — and putting them together with lyrics on death that are so dark they’re kind of funny. And that’s about all I have to say about that.”

Artist: Tim Heidecker

Album: “Fear of Death”

Favorite tracks: “Backwards,” “Property,” “Oh How We Drift Away”

If you like: ‘70s rock, Carole King, Big Star, Townes Van Zandt

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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About Ryan Israel

Ryan is the Scene Editor. He doesn't know how he got here or what he's doing — just like everyone else. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryizzy.

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