The Twilight Singers, Dynamite Steps

The Twilight Singers, Dynamite Steps

I’ve been a fan of Greg Dulli for something like two decades now; it’s a little weird to read that line back, but yeah, it’s the truth. I’ve loved the guy’s work since I first heard The Afghan Whigs’ “Retarded,” way back in 1991 or so, followed his career with the Whigs, solo, and with his Gutter Twins side project with Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan. And yeah, along the way I’ve listened to his other side project, The Twilight Singers, off and on for several years.

I hate to say it, but frankly, it’s always left me a little cold. Other than jaw-dropping cover of Björk’s “Hyperballad” (from 2004’s covers album, She Loves You) nothing I heard really struck home for me; it always felt like Afghan Whigs Lite, and over time it made me worry that maybe — just maybe — Dulli needed the other Whigs to restrain him somewhat and make the music, well, pretty much rock. I didn’t dislike it, not really, but I didn’t like it, either; I just didn’t care about it at all, which is just about the worst thing to have to declare about a band.

With that in mind, I went into The Twilight Singers’ latest, Dynamite Steps, a skeptic. I was fully prepared to shrug and file it away, most likely never to be heard again, just a wrong-road-taken footnote in the history of Dulli and the Whigs, and pick up Gentlemen and Black Love once again. Once I started listening, though, that didn’t happen. Unlike with previous Singers albums, this time I felt the pull — the same pull the classic Whigs stuff has.

So, is Dynamite Steps Afghan Whigs Lite? Sure, it could definitely be seen that way; a lot of the tracks sound very similar to the Whigs’ stuff, particularly the gentle/genteel “Get Lucky,” which comes off like an outtake from Gentlemen, or “Blackbird And The Fox,” which reminds me of “Honky’s Ladder.” There’s a lot of the same murky, dark, city-at-night vibe that the Whigs always had, too, and I find myself liking it just as much as I did back then.

Where Dynamite Steps really hits the mark, though, is on the tracks that take Dulli’s “old” sound and bend it, warping it and adapting it in new ways. Take “Never Seen No Devil,” for example, which sees Dulli and his cohorts heading down into the swamp ’round midnight, complete with what sounds like banjo and Tropical-sounding congas(?); rather than slink along like it easily could, in the Singers’ collective hands, the song becomes this weird, defiant, voodoo-like anthem.

The best example is “Waves,” which begins with that menacing murkiness, all quiet and hidden-away, riding that line just long enough so you think that’s where the band’s really headed — until the drums and guitars lunge for your throat, snarling and snapping. The Singers hit the break, then, and those overfuzzed guitars roar and shimmer, riding high on the gorgeous melody that’s seemingly the song’s eponymous subject. There’s also “Gunshots,” which starts off in a soft, subtle vein but turns majestic once the drums come crashing in, or “The Beginning of the End,” where Dulli & co. throw on some intriguingly mechanical sounds while Dulli croons and threatens.

This album’s actually made me re-remember just how wide-ranging a singer Dulli can be, by the way; it’s easy to get stuck on his trademark half-croon/half-yowl, but the guy can do a lot more than that with his voice. Like on “Be Invited,” where he cuts loose with this dark, dark, head-vibratingly bassy vocal line — it sounds weirdly like Gutter Twins cohort Lanegan, actually, with Dulli diving even lower than his remarkable, always offbeat voice normally does.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Dynamite Steps, however, is the more upbeat “She Was Stolen,” where you can almost hear Dulli smiling through the sound, and not in any kind of seductive, quasi-lecherous fashion. He sounds, for lack of a better word, happy, which is something I never, ever felt with his work in The Afghan Whigs. Maybe The Twilight Singers is something new and different, after all.

(Feature photo by Sam Holden.)

[The Twilight Singers are playing 6/1/11 at Warehouse Live, along with Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s.]
(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 4th Ave. 3rd Floor, Seattle, WA. 98121; http://www.subpop.com/; The Twilight Singers -- http://www.thetwilightsingers.com/; The Twilight Singers (Myspace) -- http://www.myspace.com/twilightsingers)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Wednesday, June 1st, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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2 Responses to “The Twilight Singers, Dynamite Steps

  1. Sue on June 1st, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    It is Lanegan on the low part in Be Invited, his only appearance on this album. And just as an aside, how you could not love Blackberry Belle and Powder Burns, is beyond me, also a fan for 20 years.

  2. Jeremy Hart on June 1st, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Ahhh, okay — that makes sense, definitely. I *did* check the credits, but didn’t see him listed, just Ani DiFranco… And sorry; the earlier Singers stuff just didn’t do much for me. I tried, honest…

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