Saturday, August 17, 2013

You Can't Turn Back The Hands Of Time: A Review Of The Triumphant Third Record From Dot Dash

My biggest fear is that if I rave too much about this record that you guys will think I didn't really like the first 2 albums from D.C.'s Dot Dash.

No. I think you can go back and read how much I loved 2011's Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash.

And it seems like barely a year ago when I was playing Winter Garden Light for the first time on my iPod as my morning commute began from Lamma Island to Hong Kong proper -- I started the record right as the ferry pulled out of Yung Shue Wan towards Central. I hit "play" and heard Danny Ingram's sticks tap out the intro to "Faraway" and I started to compose another rave review for these guys in my head.

I've rung the bell for these dudes. You all know I love The Dash.

So now, onward to the matter at hand.

What of "Record 3" from Dot Dash? What of Half-Remembered Dream, out now on The Beautiful Music?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a magnificent album!

If the first one was the boys piling all their favorite records into a ramshackle old roadster and heading out, and the second slab was that car getting a tune-up while the boys chucked records (and influences) out the window as their machine revved-up and roared forward, then this record is the ensuing joyride with a bitchin' mix-tape in the cassette deck.

From the bliss of "11th Hour" -- Marshall Crenshaw pushing Morrissey out of the way to front Marr's Smiths in 1986 -- to the goth-stomp of "A Light in the Distance" -- drummer Danny going all Budgie on us like he did when he pounded beats for D.C.'s seminal Strange Boutique and England's Swervedriver -- Half-Remembered Dream is a delight!

Somehow the boys -- Terry Banks, Bill Crandall, Hunter Bennett, and Danny Ingram -- have reassembled those familiar parts and tinkered with them. They've gone under the hood and snapped some wires and added a Road Warrior-style nitro-booster to the engine. The 10 songs here purr with that familiar effortless power pop wit and grace we've come to expect from these guys -- as usual, there's nothing wasted -- but somehow they've added a few frills this time around.

There's the breakneck "Brassneck"-rush of opener "(Here's to) The Ghosts of the Past", for example. And if Dot Dash are not necessarily copying The Wedding Present -- Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash producer Eric Tischler's The Jet Age did open for TWP a few times so maybe his Gedge-love rubbed off on these guys? -- they do bottle-up some of the delicious pop-blur of David Gedge's guitar attack.

Still, they'll never sound entirely like The Wedding Present, not while Hunter Bennett's bass throbs like Peter Hook on songs like this one.

Then there's "Hands of Time".

If I really wanted to convert someone to Dot Dash, I'd use this song 'cause this is the track that this three-time former record shop clerk knows could send a store's worth of record-stack-flippers rushing up to the counter to ask:

"Wow, that's good. Who's that? Is this for sale?"

It's that kind of tune. At once a typical Dot Dash jam and so much more than anything they've done before. Terry Banks' voice here is subdued and a bit...trippy. There are hints of Sumner in his delivery -- think "All Day Long" -- but Bill Crandall's riff-machine is an altogether different thing. There's a Steve Diggle-worthy soaring guitar-line and a few slashes that sound like Ride-era Andy Bell -- Banks on second guitar? -- but those hooks all add up to a shockingly fresh slice of indie rock and quite possibly the standout cut on the record.

"Bloom/Decay" is chiming bliss. Crandall's guitar and Bennett's bass duel it out and the tune skips forward. Instantly catchy and downright summery, things end in a crash of drummer Ingram's Clem Burke-isms on the kit as things go from power pop back to punk in seconds.

"11th Hour" opens with a hook that vaguely recalls the first album's "Alright, Alright" but then blends some Johnny Marr-style guitar riffs with what sounds like pre-Tommy Who aping the Beach Boys -- think an outtake from The Who Sell Out.

"Do Re Mi" -- after that false start intro -- rockets along and bears a strong hint of Banks and Bennett's earlier Julie Ocean.

(For more details on that band, be sure to go back to my interview with Terry Banks.)

"Broken Halo" is a bit heavier and sounds like the best moments on Winter Garden Light. But there's another great guitar-hook and a little descending bit of the melody that really adds another shade to the Dot Dash box of colors. That subtle and tiny little downward motif (?) is the real hook of the song for me.

"If not now, then when?"

"Shopworn Excuse" is a look back to America's best college rock -- think the glory days of The Connells and R.E.M.

"Fiction Section" -- despite Crandall's nod of the axe in the direction of the Buzzcocks -- is pure Tommy Keene. I hope D.C.'s own Tommy is hip to the charms of Dot Dash. He should be really proud that these guys are now in his league.

The vocals on the chorus are really nice -- Banks sounds perfectly at ease here -- and Bennett's bass anchors things as Ingram plays less punk and more Ringo.

(One of the best things I ever did with this blog was chronicle Danny Ingram's career as a drummer -- someone had to do it!)

And then, on track 9, things got a bit ugly.

I had heard "A Light in the Distance" already but couldn't wait to hear how it sounded when it finally made it onto the record. If Danny Ingram is drumming with the force of Budgie on "Spellbound", the other Dot Dashers are thinking of punk rockers other than Siouxsie and the Banshees. The guitars and bass roar like Strummer, Jones, and Simonon with the police on their backs as Banks channels early Stranglers and Damned cuts.

Album closer "The Sound in Shells" pulls together those British punk influences with all the American college rock these guys heard in the 1980s. Banks' delivery here is sublime as the instruments rock-and-crash around him.

Like just about every cut from these guys, "The Sound in Shells" is approximately two dozen influences fighting it out. Somehow out of that chaos and clash of influences, these four guys manage to make concise pop that sticks in your head.

And now, on Half-Remembered Dream, they've made it sound even easier.

They used the same producer on Half-Remembered Dream as on Winter Garden Light but things sound crisper here. Producer Branden Funkhouser might have moved the knobs in different directions this time. Whatever he did at that studio in Baltimore, he's to be commended as the record sounds great...especially at a deafening volume on my iPod headphones as I navigate crowded streets in Kowloon, but I digress.

You know, I grew up in a good era for music -- listened to most of the same bands as these guys and saw Ingram in Strange Boutique at the old 9:30 Club before I knew anything else he'd done -- and I sort of have always reacted against the earlier generation's Rolling Stone-style seriousness about album rock.

At the end of the day, I'd rather make a mix and pepper it with "What You're Doing" and "The Night Before" than sit down and put on a serious face and listen to Sgt. Pepper's like I was at the symphony.

I like singles, individual cuts. That's my barometer.

So by that standard, Half-Remembered Dream is a set of 10 outstanding tracks.

And, by my more modern barometer, Half-Remembered Dream is 10 songs that will all sound great on a mix-tape, mix-CD, or popping up random-like on an iPod between Superchunk and The Undertones.

Half-Remembered Dream is out now on The Beautiful Music.

Follow Dot Dash on their Facebook page:

It will be a D.C. Scene love-in when Dot Dash opens up for Slumberland Records' Terry Malts at DC9 in September. Details here.

(One blurry pic credit to Todd Savitch and the below pic credit to Sam Ingram.)