The Dandy Warhols, Distortland
It’s been a long road for The Dandy Warhols. They’ve occupied a very specific niche, it seems like, over the course of their 20-plus-year career, standing at the intersection between psychedelic rock, Brit-influenced pop, and indie-rock, and despite being real-live adults these days, they never quite hit the mark outside of their own little realm.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, mind you, but on Distortland, there’s a subtle frustration running throughout, only reaching its breaking point on the last track, aptly titled “The Grow-Up Song,” where frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor ends the album by declaring, “I’ve got to admit / I’m too old for this shit.” And given the band’s history, I get that.
From the evidence, though — namely, Distortland — it sure looks to me like Taylor-Taylor’s wrong. The album is definitely a “grown-up” album, in the sense that it takes some time to truly get into it, it pretty heavily celebrates the band’s various influences, and it’s maybe not as loud or raucous as the Dandys’ garage-y roots…but it’s also great.
There’s a maturity here, a level of seriousness you don’t get while listening to the band’s earlier stuff, a kind of vibe where you go, “okay, yeah, this is a band of road-tested, journeyman musicians who know what the fuck they’re doing.” To me, at least, that’s a nice thing.
See, growing up can be rough, for sure. I turned 43 this year, and when I get down on the floor to pick something up or play with the dogs, it actually fucking hurts when I stand back up again. That sucks. But there’s also a lot of self-knowledge that most 20-year-olds just don’t have, that you gain over time. That’s what Distortland sounds like, from where I sit: the product of a band that knows itself, that knows what it’s about.
The Dandy Warhols pull it off damn near flawlessly, too, from the ’90s-sounding combination of old-school electronics and jangly guitars on “Search Party,” which throws in some nice chunks of Oasis and Jesus & Mary Chain, all the way to the gauzy, overfuzzed, anthemic “Doves” and minimal, low-key guitar of the aforementioned closing track, “The Grow-Up Song”. I went into the album expecting to like it okay, but not much more than that, and yet, I’m finding it hard to stop listening.
“Semper Fidelis” is a high point, dark and menacing, with crunching, metallic guitars buried beneath Taylor-Taylor’s half-asleep vocals and a warbling, sitar-like riff, as is the loopier, paisley-clad “Pope Reverend Jim,” with its unrelenting keyboard line and bouncy, garage-y guitars. I seriously like the Michael Jackson-esque rhythms on “STYGGO” and the shuffling, bucolic feel of “Catcher In The Rye,” and the bomb-bomp garage-pop of “All The Girls In London” is a lot of fun.
What really grabbed me, though, was lead single “You Are Killing Me,” which honestly made me sit up and hit the “Back” button to take a second listen to the rest after hearing it for the first time. It’s got a great, right-up-in-your-ear guitar crunch, effortlessly chilled-out harmony vocals, and a determined beat. It makes me think of the things I love most about The Rentals and The Magnetic Fields, weirdly, at the same damn time, and I’m totally good with that.
So, in the extremely unlikely event that Taylor-Taylor ever reads this: growing up definitely has its positives, too, and they’re on display all throughout Distortland. Keep doing what you’re doing, sir.
(Feature photo by Alain BIBAL Photography.)