Vinyl Vlog 147

Vinyl Vlog 147

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into a vinyl copy of Distortland by The Dandy Warhols.

It might seem silly to entertain the idea that The Dandy Warhols could be suffering from a mid-life crisis but, listening to Distortland, that appears to be the case. The emotional state of the band is particularly evident in listening to the vinyl pressing of the album as the five-per-side running of it gently divides the running into two separate movements which lead listeners along and then beautifully complete the thought in the end. Now, some readers may question how important a point like that is – lots of bands have proven they’re capable of sustaining their energy through several thematic points as they examine the finer points along the way – but this is The Dandy Warhols; a band who have relished in their Peter Pan-like immaturity for over two decades and through eight albums before this one. In that way, Distortland marks itself as a very different kind of album in the band’s catalogue; the vinyl version of it even plays differently from its compact disc counterpart because the vinyl pressing ensures that what would normally register as deep cuts (“STYGGO” and “Give,” specifically) get added attention paid to them due to the limitations of the format. It’s a very engaging exercise in that particular regard, because it forces greater notice and attention in places which would normally get much less.

While the album doesn’t exactly open with the single most remarkable sound (Courtney Taylor-Taylor sighing has seldom inspired excitement, historyically), the fate of “Search Party” starts improving dramatically as the rhythm figure performed by bassist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer begins pushing harder and ratcheting up the song’s energy levels. It is with that push that the sighs suddenly seem like cool breaths similar to those one would expect to fill his lungs with in sub-zero temperatures; what began as fairly commonplace suddenly seems essential and brilliant – even if it’s all-but-impossible to make out any of the song’s lyrics. After that warm-up, then listeners will be ready and anxious to hear what more the Dandys have in store for them.

…And they aren’t left wanting as the album moves forward. After “Search Party” piques interest, “Semper Fidelis” shifts gears to hook listeners both effortlessly and indefinitely. There, the Dandys get down to business as the crunchy, grinding guitars produced by Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmstron chug along with the dismissive vocal line for support (“Well they run and they climb and they don’t leave nobody behind/And they come and they go – well buddy, wouldn’t you like to know” is only where it starts) and listeners will find that they’re really digging it. There isn’t a whole lot else to the songwhich can’t be found in the first forty-five seconds of it, but it proves to be captifating on an almost subliminal level. After that stage is set, The Dandy Warhols really deliver with the perfect garage pop bliss of “Pope Reverend Jim.”

The easiest way to say it is that “Pope Reverend Jim” is the kind of otherwise unaffected garage pop that The Dandy Warhols first won fans with thanks to songs like “TV Theme Song,” “Ride” and “Nothin’ To Do” years ago on their debut album. Right back to that spirit, “Pope Reverend Jim” runs along with a fluffy lyric sheet and a crunchy guitar part and just gets in, out and done before anyone has the chance to catch up with it. Is it unfocused? Sure it is – in a perfectly playful and lighthearted way, and it’s guaranteed to have listeners of that particular mind hooked in for the long haul thereafter.

After “Pope Reverend Jim,” the fluffy fun continues with the slower but cute and bouncy “Catcher In The Rye” before closing the side with the more plaintive “STYGGO” (short for “Some Things You Get to Get Over”). Although it is slower and more methodical of meter, “STYGGO” still wins listeners over easily and really ends the A-side of Distortland on a great note; the arpeggiated guitar which opens the song coupled with a shockingly raspy vocal performance by Taylor-Taylor make for a fairly lugubrious introduction for the song but, somehow, the Dandys manage to not let the song tank under that weight. Is it because it’s a little too over-the-top in its down feelings? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just such a tremendous emotional departure from the other songs on this side that it doesn’t hold its focus. Regardless, “STYGGO” leaves listeners looking for more regardless of its caliber and will have listeners ready to lift the needle in order to find out what the flipside has in store.

…And does the B-side ever begin with a bang. Starting with the sort of tribally informed drums that Ween used on “Voodoo Lady,” Dandy Warhols boldly reset the bar for Distortland with “Give.” Without intending to overstate the point, “Give” is the great big gem of a song that listeners will remember Distortland for ten years from now – just as they remember “Bohemian Like You” from Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and “We Used To Be Friends” from Welcome To The Monkey House; the polyrhythmic beat which drives the song has an immediate bob that will get listeners’ heads swinging involuntarily, and the comparatively light guitar figure which filters in on top just teases and tantalizes listeners as much as Taylor-Taylor’s absentminded “do-do-dos.” The hooks here are plentiful too; between the paraphrase of “Crimson and Clover” which reoccurs throughout the lyric sheetand the guitar part which just sort of simmers along, this song is just destined to appear either as incidental music in a television show or a repeatedly-requested single both online and on radio – it’s a foregone conclusion.

…And after “Give” gets the B-side started, everything just seems to fall in line. “You Are Killing Me” follows with a mock-stiff vocal melody and a great rock guitar figure before “All the Girls in London” aims for lighthearted goofiness vocally and an instrumental performance which buttresses onto Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” and “Doves” just sort of floats through the running, gracefully. Each of these songs flies high and freely and, in spite of making up the bulk of the B-side of the album, they race past listeners and force them to just try and keep up. They’ll relish the run they take with those songs toward the album’s closer, “The Grow Up Song,” and find they have a bright shine in their eyes when they reach it.

That moment when listeners reach “The Grow Up Song” is when listeners will realize they’ve been had; everything installed on Distortland before “The Grow Up Song” was a delightfully colored ruse to distract both listeners and the band itself and keep everyone from thinking about the fact that Distortland is The Dandy Warhols’ ninth album – made within the band’s 22-year history together. In the end, The Dandy Warhols just drag their carcasses along at a pace far beyond laden as they attempt to cross the finish line. Here, Courtney Taylor-Taylor shuffles by, croaking about letting go of youthful indulgences and culminating with the final punchline, “I’ve got to admit, I’m too old for this shit.” It’s such a simple thing but, with that one line, Courtney Taylor-Taylor gleefully dismisses everything the band has done on Distortland as a farce. He pulls the rug out from under himself and the band quickly, easily and completely, and leaves listeners feeling more than a little sold out – it’s beautiful. Beautiful for the fact that while Dandy Warhols have shown a talent for writing great, offbeat pop songs repeatedly over the last twenty years, this is the first occasion where he has truly outsmarted them all.

That last one-liner at the end of “The Grow Up Song” will leave listeners shocked and dazzled. The end here may indeed be the smartest thing The Dandy Warhols have ever done, and it’s easily the way they could erase the blackboard and start totally fresh – with no outstanding expectations – on their next release, if they so chose. The verdict remains out on whether they’ll take advantage of that but, no matter what they do, The Dandy Warhols have opened a magnificent number of possibilities with Distortland. [BILL ADAMS]


Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine – The Dandy Warhols – Distortland – [CD review]

Distortland is out now on CD, vinyl and available as an MP3 download. Buy it here on Amazon.

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