Monday, October 17, 2011

A Review Of The Debut Album From D.C.'s Dot Dash

As a lifelong D.C. area resident, I'm always a bit bemused when D.C. gets defined by one genre. In the 1980s, with the success of Dischord Records, it seemed as we were living in a punk city. In the 1990s, when some guys and gals who used to shop where I worked (the late Record Co-Op on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland) formed a few bands (Velocity Girl, Black Tambourine, Air Miami) and a label (Slumberland) and achieved some deserved success, it seemed as if the D.C. area was the new epicenter of C86-inspired jangle pop.

Now, maybe we're gonna get labeled a sort of post-punk revival city? Or we could bring that New Wave of New Wave label the UK press used back in the days of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H to describe the area's best new band?

That's a long way to introduce you to Dot Dash. Their full-length debut, Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, is out now -- links below -- and it's a stomper.

Early songs that made it my way seemed to fit with the era of the song and band (Wire) that gave Dot Dash their name. But, upon listening to Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, it's clear that Dot Dash are 4 guys able to push a restrained raucousness into 14 concise songs of constrained chaos.

This is thought-out post-punk and it's catchy as hell!

These are fresh takes on a familiar formula that, oddly but refreshingly, don't sound like the work of the other great bands these guys have been in.

The pedigrees of these individuals are well-known: Terry Banks (guitar and voice) and Hunter Bennett (bass) were in Julie Ocean (with Velocity Girl's Jim Spellman, and Terry was also in The Saturday People with Velocity Girl's Archie Moore). Bill Crandall (guitar) was in Modest Proposal, leaders of D.C.'s mod revival in the 1980s. And Danny Ingram (drums) was in D.C. punkers Youth Brigade (as well as Strange Boutique, radioblue, and England's Sweverdriver).

With that out of the way, onto the tunes.

Forget Wire, opener "The Color and the Sound" sounds like a beat era band trying to speed up a Beatles b-side side. There's a touch of D.C.'s own Chisel here, but the cut is a unique mix of the influences of about 10 different eras.

Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash seems to be split between songs that sound a bit like Wire -- a trifle detached (?), but maybe that's too strong a word -- and songs that are wildly lyrical which recall the melodic charms of stuff like "E.S.P." by The Buzzcocks.

Take "Dissolve": the cut has a nearly plucked guitar line that reminds one of Bernard Sumner's work on side one of Brotherhood but then the drums-and-cymbals crash, the guitar cuts-and-soars, and the vocals yearn -- this is a great song, to put it simply. It is very much like hearing an American version of These Animal Men - something from that woefully underappreciated 2nd album.

Likewise, "Tragedy/Destiny" adds mid-period Jam -- think "In The Crowd" -- to the mix. "I'm Going Home" sounds almost like early Supergrass -- early Supergrass pummeling some lost Yardbirds gem, maybe.

"Gripped" and the melodic "Alright, Alright" showcase some strong bass-work from Hunter Bennett and that pulsing bass almost pushes the cuts into the territory of ska -- there's a slight hint to my ears -- and it also reminds me of the bouncy pop of the original new wave era -- stuff like early Plimsouls, The Boomtown Rats of "She's So Modern" and not "I Don't Like Mondays" if you get my meaning.

If it seems like I'm stressing all of these influences and similarities, it's for a reason: when I read about this band, I could feel the band getting pigeon-holed as post-punk revivalists, Ian Curtis acolytes, Wire fetishists. Nope, nope, nope.

This is punchy, sprightly stuff, filled with hooks. Kudos also goes to producer Eric Tischler who manages to make the band sound like they are all playing live in the same room. The instruments sound real and Terry's voice is nicely placed in the front of the mix. Danny Ingram's drumming is like early Keith Moon when he was trying to control himself but the fury was still seeping out in the singles of the era. Frankly, the drums on most rock records should sound like this; you can hear a human furiously playing behind that kit and I dig that.

These are 14 songs tailor-made for live shows and I look forward to seeing these guys when they open for ex-Stranglers frontman Hugh Cornwell this week -- details here -- and then again when they open for a revamped line-up of England's The Chameleons in November.

Check back here in a few days for a free MP3 from Dot Dash.

The band will be opening for Hugh Cornwell, one-time lead singer of punk/new wave/alternative legends The Stranglers, in Rockville at Montgomery College on Friday, October 21, 2011. Details here.

For all of your Dot Dash needs, follow them on their Facebook page.

You can buy the album, Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, from Dot Dash, as a download via

You can also get Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, from Dot Dash, via iTunes in the US here.

And the physical CD is available from