Know Your Product
Dope Body shoves punk forward, Lowell drops a time capsule from the past
Published: December 1, 2010
Black Tent Press
Imagine a self-destructing record, a vinyl slab capable of shaking itself right off the turntable and onto the floor. And on that floor pace around all kinds of punk-possessed boots. It’s under these boots that Dope Body’s first noncassette release gets crushed like a bag of chips. It has that energy, the sort of music that plays and turns into a physical thing.
Maybe it’s Zach Utz’ way of making guitar strings sound like pure electricity, in the sense of being actual materializations of electrical current strung on a guitar body and conjuring these batshit sounds of mixed feedback, chug, and tearing open spacetime. Or human rubber band Andrew Laumann’s immense talent for stripping any and all civilization from his voice. Anyhow, you get the point: heavy music from deep, anarchic currents.
What’s very important to note is that Dope Body is one of a half-dozen bands in the whole worldwide punk revival that really gets it, that it’s not about being retro or being the next some-other-band-that-already-existed. Which is probably why it slides just so perfectly into warehouse/Wham City Baltimore. See also: Double Dagger, that other punk/hardcore/“other” Baltimore trio with two instrumental free-thinkers and a frontman force of nature.
“Beat” occurs about three minutes into the record and starts with these big distorto-bass chugs, like an old steam engine coming to life at the very edge of a black hole and having its atoms pulled apart, followed by Laumann-as-David Yow riding it in. Notably, YouTube’s auto-generated “see also” for Dope Body is Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” and if the awesomely titled Self Entitled’s “Easy/Hard” has a partner in sonic crime, that may be it. Somewhere around “Tomahawk” you should have gotten past the record’s initial shockwave enough to catch a bit of what’s happening behind the kit and just how weirdly and furiously drummer David Jacober moves the songs forward. Amazing how three dudes so much in their own worlds manage to make a whole other one and call it a song.
The split here is with Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Orphan and we’re not slighting it because it’s bad; it’s just not Baltimore. It’s a bit of a different beast: Black Sabbath dark churn carries an almost thrashy kind of top-side. In other words, if the record hasn’t melted to the platter, it’s worth flipping over.
The Ten Houses and the Falling Leaves
This record is actually from 2001/2002, right about the time the short-lived Lowell was breaking up—a release of an old record that appears to have never come out. Not that you would need to check the liner notes to know that this particular Baltimore indie-rock time capsule isn’t fresh from the studio. This was right about the time indie-rock was at its most “difficult,” when postrock and math-rock were starting to take the wheel and things were getting pretty geeky, and just a title like Ten Houses and the Falling Leaves harks back to the good old days of hyperliterate indie-rock-meaning-college-rock, when The Believer started releasing compilation CDs and the Decemberists decided indie-rock was really the best venue to explore Irish mythology.
That sounds a bit too much like a warning label, probably. Lowell’s principles have moved on to somewhat different things by now: Frontman Michael Nestor plays in the Seldon Plan and runs the Beechfields record label, which is home to a great deal of folk-pop and other quieter things. Gregory Rago went on to help found the lush chamber-rock outfit Yeveto and take solo American primitive guitar trips. Whether or not you stopped listening to new music when Hum broke up, Ten Houses is at least a worthy listen. (Just, for the love of god, skip the track listing, which includes teeth-grinding titles such as “Bloomington/Semiotics,” “The Big Chill/My Postmodernist Dilemma,” and a few other gems straight from the lit department.)
The disc is at its best when it’s reining itself in and just being quiet, and when it’s leaning forward toward some of the stuff Rago in particular has gone on to explore—as when “Sunset/Moonrise: 1 Pennroad Ave” chugs through three minutes of grungy alt-rock guitar shred just to gently land in a field of meditative acoustic picking. Or “Yoko Ono Love Song,” which gets its climax out in restrained cello. Generally: when the band is forcing restraint on itself. All in all, Ten Houses is pretty dated and uneven but not something that should’ve stayed buried.
For more information visit thebeechfields.com.
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