It always makes for a good story when a band revamps in the wake of some upheaval of members. And while one may wish that Dot Dash's perseverance as a three-piece had the sort of drama behind it like that of when the Manics carried on following the disappearance of Richey Edwards, the simple reality is that Steve's gone. The group's core is now singer and guitarist Terry Banks, bassist Hunter Bennett, and drummer Danny Ingram. And while one can momentarily wonder about what happened, it almost doesn't matter at all given how wonderfully natural the power-pop sounds here on this, the sixth album from Dot Dash.
Proto Retro, out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com, is effortlessly enjoyable, and perhaps the clearest proof yet that Terry Banks is one of the unsung heroes of modern American power-pop. Each selection here positively crackles with melodic ideas, and while I suppose there are some fans out there who may mourn the absence of the loud guitars found on 2016's Searchlights, I think that far more followers of this group will be thankful that melody, not just volume, is driving things this time out. With production from Geoff Sanoff, it's also almost fair to say that this is the best the band's sounded on record since 2011's Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash, the debut produced by Eric Tischler of The Jet Age.
From the "Pilgrimage"-like opening of the elegant "Tamed a Wild Beast" and on to the Foo Fighters-ish slow-punch of "Triple Rainbow", there seems to be a new zest to Banks' compositions here, the result being more numbers that don't simply sprint past in a flash of smart-and-sharp chord changes. Sure, the purposefully goofy "TV/Radio" nods in the direction of the early waves of American punk rock -- those Alan Vega lyrics! -- but it's also a pretty good showcase for the renewed vigor of the rhythm section here, with Bennett's bass-hooks all sinewy things aside Ingram's throwback harDCore smacks on the kit. Similarly, the superb "Parachute Powerline" succeeds in some large measure also thanks to that rhythm section, even as Banks peppers the cut with bits and pieces that faintly echo "Secondary Modern", "King Horse", and other classic Costello numbers.
And while "Fast Parade" and opener "Unfair Weather" have a lot of punch, like numbers from a Bob Mould solo record, it's the easy-and-catchy "Gray Blue Green" that stands out as a real highlight here. Tuneful in a familiar way, like something off an old Beau Brummels record, it's elemental American power-pop, even more so than the fine "World's Last Payphone" with its bright blasts of concise, Pollard-style alt-pop. On an album where so many tracks seem like classics, these 2 jump out as neat summations of the strengths of this trio.
Assured but not overdone, riff-heavy but not loud, Proto Retro is a largely excellent collection of masterful power-pop. Fans of The dB's, Matthew Sweet, The Posies, and Fountains of Wayne, will find this set a record that's easy to love. An album that places Dot Dash within an arm's reach of releases from the great rock trios (The Jam, Husker Du, Supergrass), Proto Retro is a veritable hook-farm, and perhaps the best record that Terry Banks, Hunter Bennett, and Danny Ingram have ever played on, and considering the bands these cats have been in (Youth Brigade, Julie Ocean, Swervedriver, The Saturday People, Glo-Worm, St. Christopher, Weatherhead, Strange Boutique), that's saying something, ain't it?
Proto Retro is out now via TheBeautifulMusic.com.
More details on Dot Dash via the band's official Facebook page.