OKC indie rock quartet employs riffy guitars and upbeat drums to ponder time and existence in the 21st Century
While mortality is a running theme in the work of Death By Knowledge, newcomers may be surprised by how it manifests. The band’s name at first look conjures self-serious bro metal with epic, melodramatic takes on the lofty themes of its verbiage. However, Death By Knowledge in actuality treats its existentialism with levity. Indeed, Oklahoma City’s resident absurdist jesters of indie rock ‘n roll are a joyous bunch, embracing the big-picture quandaries of human life with a sitcom-esque shrug of the shoulders.
In the studio, the four-piece presents its ideas in such a carefree way that background listeners might not pick up on the heavier themes at play. It doesn’t take much attention to hear it, though, as Death By Knowledge tends to tell it pretty straight. The band’s debut single, “It All Sinks In”, is packed with soul-searching questions that get so meta that the questions begin to question the very notion of questions. In contrast, 2020’s “Cursed Are the Meek” is less burdened, if only by succumbing to the dystopian conclusion that The Beatitudes of the Christian Bible aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
As anyone who has attended a skit-fueled Death By Knowledge concert can attest, though, the band is not here to push a message of doom and gloom. It’s all in the tone, one perhaps best represented to date by the time the band reimagined Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham in a dramatic Shakespearean on-stage reading (“I will not partake of your succulent swine meat, nor of your embryo of poultry!”). The words are borderline horrific, but the absurdity outweighs their heft. The best comedy couches hard truths in thoughtful delivery, presenting the common in an uncommon way to nudge audiences into seeing how ridiculous normality truly can be.
Death By Knowledge’s third single, “Museum”, continues the band’s oddball streak, and you can hear it now in this Make Oklahoma Weirder track premiere.
This new single has been sitting in the wings of the studio for a while now, with the band teasing it as early as 2019. Knowing that “Museum” has been in the Death By Knowledge repertoire for years helps inform why the band is so inclined to sketch comedy. The premise is just a few beats away from a skit itself.
The song pictures everyday folks in the present time as relics preserved in a future museum. The chorus remarks how beings to come would look back on the lifestyles of the 21st Century as archaic and, well, sucky. It doesn’t take too much imagination to suggest other interpretations that might accompany placards of these old humans, like something out of the Nathan W. Pyle school of thought.
While the thought of a mundane existence having a historical legacy is weird enough, it’s the thought-experiment nature of the writing that posits a more absurd observation. At some point, people will care more about us than we do ourselves because we’ll all be dead. The passage of time has an odd effect on ego and pulls control from even the most controlling of personalities.
Like with much of Death By Knowledge’s big ideas, this could be prime material for existential horror, but instead, it’s played for a laugh. The chipper music pairs with dry lines like the closing hook, which chimes, “If this place caves in, we’ll all be dancing skeletons / But who cares; it’s not like we’ll even be there to begin with.”
Lacing in that idea that every end is another beginning adds another layer of complexity to what it even means to be mortal, yet for the band, it’s an ironic punchline that reveals as much in its delivery than its message. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you might as well enjoy it while you still can.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.