Dewey Defeats Truman
The Road to Nowhere Maps E.P.
Yeah, this is good, radio ready, and tight -- that's the first thing I thought when I heard Dewey Defeats Truman's The Road to Nowhere Maps E.P. It's full of catchy, guitar-driven songs with great vocals and arrangements. These songs would sit right next to Jimmy Eat World on MTV's TRL -- not a moment is wasted on this E.P., as every song is good...but it's also nondescript. My biggest complaint is that this record is a little too middle-of-the-road for my taste. This record needs some character, something to roughen up the smooth pop sheen. I can see DDT scoring big with a single but failing to have a great album. (KM)
(Has Anyone Ever Told You? Records -- P.O. Box 161702, Austin, TX. 78716-1702; email@example.com; http://www.hasanyoneevertoldyou.com/; Dewey Defeats Truman -- http://www.deweyrawk.com/)
The Life You're Faking
The Life You're Faking ends with an unedited version of the song that kicks off the album, which is just the type of all-things-to-all-people pandering that typically pisses me off. It says that the Dipsomaniacs know that a shorter "Everyday" has a better likelihood of being played on the radio but they're too cheap to send out a separate promo disc and too pleased with the song to ax one of the two versions. In this case, though, all it really does is just save me the trouble of pressing "play" to hear it again.
That was an instinct that dogged me in the opening stages of my love affair with the New Pornographers' Mass Romantic, and indeed, the Dipsomaniacs sound a bit like the Vancouver group but without Neko Case and the cerebral-hemorrhage creativity. The Dipsomaniacs don't break any new ground, but at least they crib from quality sources, appropriating the cream of at least three decades of power pop. "More Than A Machine" sounds like it was composed in a "What You Do To Me" haze and "Valerie Valerie (NJT)" could have been cut from the limestone of Being There-era Wilco, but the Dipsomaniacs' sharp guitars, punchy drums and efficient harmonies keep their own sound consistent and concrete from start to finish.
That's the case even when their touchstones are made a bit more explicit. "Everything" culminates in a fadeout chant of "Someday I'm gonna ride it / Someday I'm gonna ride that wave to you / A million miles away" that not only doesn't bother avoiding the inevitable Plimsouls comparisons but meets them head on, while "Rubber Soul" is backed by harmony vocals straight out of "You Won't See Me." That's the song's only resemblance to the Beatles album, though, and "Shane MacGowan" likewise sounds nothing like the Pogues, relying instead on Cheap Tricky guitars (I'm thinking "Downed" in particular), although I swear I hear enough hints of "Mr. Milk" in there to think that someone in the band is a You Am I fan. Derivative but enjoyable, The Life You're Faking gives no reason to think that the Dipsomaniacs are interested in anything higher-minded than screwing around and having a good time. Careers are built around less noble pursuits every day. (MH)
(Face Down Records -- P.O. Box 1733, Burlington, NJ. 08016; http://www.facedown.net/; Jam Recordings -- 3424 Wedgewood Drive, Portage, MI. 49024; http://www.jamrecordings.com/; The Dipsomaniacs -- http://www.dipsomaniacs.net/)
Wherever You Will
Take a lounge band and add a little Led Zeppelin, a touch of Lou Reed, and a dash of both old school rock & roll and country twang, and you have Drifter, a four-piece act from Houston, Texas. Wherever You Will begins as a great piece of work, but after a few songs it loses its vitality and becomes almost tedious to listen to. The first few songs are brilliantly done and they really bring you along for a listen, but after the same type of song over and over again it gets plain boring.
The third song, "Doing It Together" is the most captivating song on the album, with its strong guitar and tight vocals; it's a different kind of love song that really shows the power behind the vocals that give Drifter its smooth edge. It's actually quite disappointing that this CD ends like it does. It starts off so beautifully, but drags on far longer than it should. After the same guitar riffs and the same bass lines song after song, it gets really tiring really fast. It's an okay CD if you plan on chilling out and taking a nap, but otherwise it's monotonous to the point where it's more of a task to listen to than it is a pleasure. (NK)
(self-released; Drifter -- http://www.drifterband.com/)
Drive Like Jehu
2002 was an eventful year in the world of agitated guitar rock. Two most bodacious and respectable punk rockers, Dee Dee Ramone and Joe Strummer, said their Last Goodbyes. Dave Grohl, punk's most well-known drummer by far, retook the kit with the Queens of the Stone Age. The MTV industry continued to spawn (Avril Lavigne) or acquire (Jimmy Eat World) attractive, more-or-less snotty youngsters. More quietly, the year also brought the re-release of a number of well-loved indie-punk records from the likes of Dag Nasty, Jawbox, Rites of Spring and others. Foremost among these was the re-release by Swami Records of Drive Like Jehu's 1994 tour-de-lotta-noise Yank Crime, a landmark in the development of post-hardcore punk rock as an art form.
Punk rock is a field long renowned for aggression. But Yank Crime pushes against even punk's seemingly nonexistent barriers of control: if Black Flag celebrated violence, Drive Like Jehu worshipped it, flinging themselves about willy-nilly in a veritable explosion of spleen. They brought the war that Fear had demanded fifteen years earlier. Mark Trombino's snare drum could be a gunshot, and his cymbals explosions. Mike Kennedy's bass evoked a war engine. Rick Froberg and John Reis's guitars sounded like scimitars, rifles, bombs, airplanes, even klaxons. And when he needed it to be, Froberg's voice was a strident battle cry or a blood-curdling scream. The opening track, "Here Come the Rome Plows," sees Froberg narrating the demise of an empire: he fearfully notes "here come the huns" and laments, like a doomed and decadent superpower, "not a scratch. Not a dent. I've never been on the receiving end...I've never been!" as the song lurches through truncated 5-beat measures, shifting and transposing meters throughout like a fear-maddened crowd running for its collective life. The tables turn for "Luau," a nine-minute-plus dirge that doesn't so much plod as stomp, like a Hawaiian zombie, inexorably towards murder. Froberg demands "Wipe the last haole the fuck off our turf" and suggests that Jehu's primitive army "kill all the tourists...get cash for their fillings...blow it on rifles, blow it on drinks." The final five minutes of the song is an orgy of improvised guitar noise over a wailing, smashing ostinato that the band extended in live shows to the furthest extent of physical endurance. The massacre was complete.
But with all this violence, what should we say about the tuneful, waltzy "New Intro?" Or "Super Unison," which spends much of its last four minutes (all instrumental) balancing a speedy rhythmic figure characterized not by frenzy but by finesse? There is an wonderful delicacy in these moments. It comes from the expression of something personal, an effort to tap the emotions that remain after rage is vented. We can read the existence of these sentiments in those of Froberg's lyrics that deal with people in a non-killing-related fashion. They come through most clearly in "Super Unison"; in the second minute, the thumping unison of all three guitarists and Trombino's flams give way suddenly to a sustained open chord over a crisp snare roll. The figure repeats, stops as suddenly as it began, and gives way to the unison thump. Near the turn of the fourth minute, the open figure returns, and where it stopped previously, the guitars take a crisp breath as Trombino's roll continues. What follows is probably the catchiest, most beautiful part of the whole record: as the guitars soulfully match the drumroll's rhythm, Froberg sings a simple tune -- "Maybe I've been cloned to let that man inside your home. It wasn't me that phoned to let that man inside your home." Earlier in the song, Froberg screamed "Ready ready to let you in, up with the mob." Is this the same "letting in?" If so, is there a simple change of perspective -- or is this a disavowal of the violence of the song's opening? In either case, the difference between the loud part and the quiet part is heightened by a sense of shame or self-incrimination as "I've been cloned" recalls the "mob." These are the last words of the song. Trombino continues his roll for an interval that seems almost superhuman, paralleling the emotional tension of the lyrics, and when he releases, the band plays the opening "Unison" figure again, now quiet and clean. The song eventually regains its thrash, but the tunefulness remains.
This phenomenon -- the alternating (or simultaneous) expression of and reaction to violence -- is what makes Yank Crime so good. Even when Froberg is at his most paranoid and the band their loudest, the resulting near-chaos retains enough personality and musicality -- and, perhaps, fear of itself -- to give the listener emotional access to the musicians. It seems apt, then, to say that the noisy and aggressive tendencies of the record are less the result of anger than of experimentation: an effort to push the human voice, to make the guitar more expressive, to deal with violent desires, to rock harder -- and to improvise. Because of their hardness, Jehu is often placed in the rock tradition alongside metal and hardcore acts -- a San Francisco reviewer described them as "Rollins without the shtick, Rage Against the Machine without the anal-retentive political correctness, Tool without the metal residue" -- and their influence is almost always traced to screamish punk crossovers such as At the Drive In, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, the Blood Brothers, etc. But if the key to understanding Jehu is an interpretation of noisiness as exploration, then they are best placed alongside messy, lively bands like the Germs or Rites of Spring -- or perhaps, as a friend of mine once suggested, Pere Ubu -- and their punk-rock-as-experimentation mindset can be traced to Chicago prog-rockers like Don Caballero and Sweep the Leg Johnny.
It might seem odd that a record only eight years old should receive a re-release treatment usually reserved for "classics" and recordings unavailable on CD. But Yank Crime wasn't too far from the latter category: Interscope Records stopped printing it several years ago, and it thus became unavailable for purchase. Even so, it came to meet the former condition at the same time, as its fusion of thuggish violence and artistic exploration spread through the punk world. No doubt Reis's own Swami label will be a homier casket for the revivified corpse of Drive Like Jehu. Punk rock's metaphorical canvas, which at times seems blanker than Billy Zoom on quaaludes, could do worse than to be spattered occasionally by such murderous mess. (DM)
(Swami Recordings -- P.O. Box 620428, San Diego, CA. 92162; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.swamirecords.com/; Drive Like Jehu -- http://www.nyx.net/~gsherwin/jehu.html)
The Navigator Closes His Eyes
With something like seven albums out (at this writing - who knows how many by the time you read this), all with incredibly similar packaging (same font, same cover formatting, a picture of a dog on the back on a black field), Dunlavy's nothing if not consistent in their aesthetic, leaving one feeling a little blurry defining distinctions between Dunlavy albums. Which is probably appropriate, because Dunlavy's brand of "bedroom space rock" leaves you feeling a bit blurry as well, like it'd make a little more sense if you were in just the right state of mind as the one guy (Scott Grimm) in a bedroom coming up with all of this. (Which, I should clarify, is not an insult.)
Having heard four Dunlavy albums, I'd put The Navigator Closes His Eyes near the top of the heap. The use of nonmusical vocal tracks (here represented by a woman telling a story about guns and restaurants and acid in "Lance's Story") is more compelling here than in other places (like, say, the interminable SF skit that kicks off John Merkel is a Miracle). And the music touches all the space rock bases, from the crushing rock of "The Crushing Weight" (recalling Scott Grimm's journey with The Mike Gunn) to the ethereal echoes and delays of "Elegy" (unlisted on the track listing on the packaging, for some reason) to the head-nodding acoustic guitars of "Mohawk Valley" to the droning keyboards and loping bass of "Unknown". The folks who put the press release argue that this is the best Dunlavy record yet, and as much as I hate those sorts of claims, I'm not sure they're wrong. (DD)
(Camera Obscura Records -- Post Office Box 5069, Burnley, VIC 3121, AUSTRALIA; http://www.cameraobscura.com.au/)