Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Album Review: Tales of Interest by The Dopamines (by Robyn Pierce)

I became a big fan of The Dopamines in 2010 with the release of their second full-length, Expect the Worst. I’m pretty sure that album made a few lists for the best albums released that year. It was so well-received that all of the band’s subsequent albums are almost certainly doomed to be considered in light of it. When 2012’s Vices came around, I’m sure my expectations were way too high. The same elements were there, but it seemed too cluttered to me, too slick at times and lacking some of the raw, biting cynicism I’d loved on the previous release. However, after a few more listens I realized that this was just a slightly more grown-up Dopamines party, with the same sardonic spirit and punchy songwriting. Enter The Dopamines’ latest album: Tales of Interest, out on Rad Girlfriend Records.

This time I was more excited about how The Dopamines have been able to grow and develop their sound. The first song I actually heard off of Tales of Interest was ‘Ire’, which premiered a few weeks ago on the Anxious and Angry podcast (rather awesomely in the 150th episode. If you haven’t checked out this podcast yet, which places you in the intimate company of Ryan Young and his candid punk rock guests, I really suggest that you do.) This is definitely one of the stronger tracks off of Tales of Interest and showcases a number of elements that characterize this album – such as a heavier, darker sound, aggressive vocals and a pounding melody. The Dopamines are at their best when they’re spitting bitter truths and pithy burns, and that hasn’t changed here. ‘Ire’ hits you with some great lines about revenge, with Jon belting out “And I can’t think of a better way to throw it right back into your lying face”, because “it’s true what they say, revenge feels pretty sweet”. When I moved from this to the album, I was caught off-guard by the beginning; instead of dropping straight into one of the band’s leaping melodies, you’re eased into the album with what sounds like the band plugging in and warming up. This gives it a little bit of the feel of a live show, but it also just feels dirtier and more D.I.Y. – like the guys recorded the entire album in about four days while chugging beer the entire time (which they did. Again, you really should check out the Anxious and Angry podcast.) About halfway in, the first track kicks into gear with the heavier, getting-towards-metal type of distortion that is used throughout the album.

Once you get into the second track, ‘The King of Swilling Powers, Part I, II, II’, you can tell that the band have thought about the dynamics of these songs. It’s easy with this sort of in-your-face punk to keep everything bashing out at a similar volume, so that it all bleeds into each other. Here, as on “Ire”, the band strips things down to begin with – dampening the guitar so that the vocals come to the forefront and allowing for more of an impact when the full band comes in. The next song, ‘Business Papers’, starts out thick and heavy with a syncopated rhythm; in true Dopamines style, this is a song about corporate trappings and the frustrations of working in an office (think Office Space, but with more la la las). There’s also a broody breakdown with some tight drumrolls. Tracks 5 and 6 are both a little less heavy (mostly). ‘Common Rue’ brings in some palm muting with poppier vocals while, wait for it… ‘Midwesternplayalisticeconolinemuzik’ (yeah, they’re trolling us; just call it track 6) is really fun, with a jiving drum beat and guitar and vocals that burst out with angsty brilliance. ‘083133’ kicks you in the face again with something faster, dirtier and louder, before you slide down into the pop punk melody of ‘Pavlovian Fixations’. In Tales of Interest, it’s really clear that The Dopamines have tried to create an album with variety that keeps your interest, but which also has a set of songs that sit together comfortably and clearly belong on the same album. Each song is a ‘tale’ of daring, or a slightly cynical story in a drunken punk storybook for adults, with Jon’s yells urging you to turn the page.

‘Open Letter’ is essentially a glorious vent, with a chord progression that rises and builds beautifully. At one point Jon sings: “wearing kid gloves, trying new things, playing nice…I’d rather set your ass on fire!” (Ah man, I’d love to see Jon in the Johannesburg traffic. I can only imagine the deliciously horrible things that would come out of his mouth.) The album doesn’t really slow down in this last third, with the last five songs all delivering on pace and raw energy. ‘Expect the Worst’ does actually remind me of the album of the same name, but more polished. ‘Kaltes Ende’ seems to refer back to the first track on the album (Kalte Ente), but a quick Google search tells me that Kalte Ente just refers to the practice of mixing leftover wine to create a drink called ‘Cold Duck’ and I could find nothing for Kaltes Ende. So…the guys started out drinking and they’re drinking again? Or, this album is the swirled mix of all the cold leftovers of their previous songwriting attempts? After ‘Kaltes Ende’ the guys get really sweet in ‘Heartbeaten by the Police’, which reminds me of Masked Intruder simply because of its vocal harmonizing and love-themed punning. The beginning of ‘Business Papers (Reprise)’ is the slowest the album gets, but it’s really a slow burning build to the banged-out ending. ‘Everyone Dies’ is an old-school jam that ends off the album in a blaze (and with a great Cranberries reference).

If you are an ‘Expect the Worst’ fan like me and hoped for more of a return to that sound, then Tales of Interest may not be for you – but I’d urge you to listen to it anyway because it’s a great record that delivers on the caustic, yet fun-loving, dirty, yet tight, Dopamines sound that you can’t help but enjoy. This is still The Dopamines you know and love, just a little more hardened and grown.

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This review was written by Robyn Pierce