26 January, 2013

Recent, uh... (Madison Edition)

Dharmonic Deluxe, Golden Arrow
OK, so this starts with an A Clockwork Orange style arpeggiated synth line and I'm pretty sure it's going to be OK. I mean, who did the soundtrack for that movie? Was that Wendy Carlos? [Googles.] Yeah, except she was still Walter Carlos when she did that. Anyway, yeah, the synth line opening this record is reminiscent of that sound that my brain will forever link to words like "bleak" and "distopian" (or, as Burgess preferred, "cacotopian"). And then there's a layer of synth that evokes old 8-bit NES games. And then there's some slightly dirty, single-coil pickup spy movie guitar. So far, so good.
And then the "Dance dance dance dance!" octave bass line comes in and I sit here thinking, Fuck. This is going to be one of those records.
But by the time we leave the intro and get into "Deco Dance", there's enough of a Franz Ferdinand coked out indy-sweat-sleaze element that I can relax because I'm not spending a Saturday afternoon listening to fucking disco. I could almost fuck to this but the unison boy-girl vocals would probably distract the shit out of me and my paramour. In the meantime, I suppose that I'll make do with dreaming of driving a convertible through Monaco or some similar exotic seaside locale.
I got about forty seconds into "Golden Arrow" and I got lost and had to start it over; I had no idea what was going on. "Golden Arrow" is perhaps the centerpiece of the record, with as many aesthetic shifts in its four minutes and fourteen seconds as there were on side B of Melvins' Stag. For some inexplicable reason though, it reminds me of the closing song from Sound of Noise...
... even though now that I went back and listened to it, it sounds nothing like that.
"Your Friends Won't" starts off with a dirty little Mexicali guitar and then it gets weird. Too weird for me. For real. When the up & down two-step thing kicks in, I've made up my mind that I probably don't like this. And, hey, that's OK. Dharmonic aren't making music for guys like me. Most bands falling under that banner don't make it to the fourth song, so that should be an indication that I don't outright hate this record, just that I'm not down with this song.
Hey, at least I've got a challenge on my hands, right?
Now, because I want to shirk responsibility and just throw a bunch of comparisons in here without adding an original thought or analysis of my own, I'll go ahead and say that "Awesome Never" brings me back in by reminding me of Pain Teens' sexier moments, like say "Coral Kiss", and not because of the female lead vocals. (To put it flatly, Dharmonic's Courtney doesn't sound anything like Bliss Blood.) (Though in her softer moments she reminds me of Beth from Portishead.) Rather, it's the whole vibe of the song; a mix of sensuality and aggression that's always sadly in short supply. Some bands can do one and not the other. Here, Dharmonic have melded those two elements. "Awesome Never" could easily be on the mix tape before or after Pain Teens' "Coral Kiss" at your local dominatrix's fuck dungeon. Is it a master class in combining the sultry and the rapacious? EEEhhh... let's say it's close. Very close. Like a smidgen off. The fact is that while this definitely the get down track on Golden Arrow, there's just a little too much going on.
It could stand to be streamlined (in my opinion that has no weight on what this band does); I'm not at all into the part of the song from 2:22 to 2:38 but I'll also go on record as saying that the stretch from 2:38 to 3:08 is the probably the prettiest thirty seconds of rock music that I've heard this week. That's the part that I'm going to sample.
When "Matriarchetype" starts, I know that I'm not going to like it. I listen to it anyway and it's not my thing. That's all I can say about it: It's not my thing. Same goes for "Bound to the Cross".
And I'm going to say this, which is supremely dickish of me to say but when have I ever been a nice guy, really? Anyway, I'm going to say this: If you're going to name a song "Bound to the Cross", it had damned well better be some nasty-assed-dropped-D-two-fuzz-pedals-and-an-octave-divider sludgy stoner doom drone. Hey, I didn't make that rule but that's the rule. You want to bring Golgotha into some shit, you need to drop the BPM to, say, thirty and down tune the guitars. That's the rule. M. will tell you the same thing, he knows how this works.
"Greetings! From Your Future" pulls me back in by reminding me of the synth pop scene that failed to take hold in BG before I left town. It has a Berlin (think "Metro" not "Sex (I'm A)") and Blondie vibe to it, especially in the first half. The second half, however, reminds me of a Tim Burton movie.
"Phantom" briefly starts off sounding like the opening from Klute (which, if you haven't seen it, is one twisted and tense movie). The guitar will convince you that there's a storm brewing outside for how foreboding it is and the A Clockwork Orange synth makes a comeback. "Phantom" also handily sums up my feelings about this record on the whole: The songs I like on this record are songs I'm nearly instantly claiming as my favorites whereas the ones I don't like I really don't like. It's a fairly polarizing record; one song will have me going Oh, fuck yeah, and then the next song will have me wondering how much credibility I could maintain if I reviewed this record while skipping songs.
As much as I hate to be self-referential or refer back to other reviews that I've written, I think I wrote once before that a band is doing something right when they're doing something that not everybody likes. I've measured maybe one or two bands by that metric before and it seems like a cheap cliché to fall back on but it holds true.
So I've got this record in front of me and I like pretty much only half of it from a songwriting perspective. The musicianship is as tight as Bonham's kick drum and the production is professional and well balanced; all told, it's a good sounding record from front to back. Also, even though I made allusions to maybe, what? every band ever and the last half of the twentieth century's cinematic output, Dharmonic Deluxe fails to wear their influences on their sleeves. It's not so much that it's out of left field, it's that you don't know which field it came out of. It could have come from the woods, ferfucksake. The long and short of it is that I don't know what to make of it. I can tell you that most bands that label their stuff with "progressive" and "dance" on their Bandcamp pages probably wouldn't appeal to me as much as Dharmonic does and, even then, I've admitted probably four times already that only half of this record does anything for me.
It's one of those records that you'll have a hard time explaining to your friends (unless you're into this kind of music, then it's probably pretty easy for you), you're just going to have to put it on and listen to it and then make up your mind about it. Yeah, it can be a little confounding, sometimes aggravating, sometimes electrifying. If you want something new, if you're feeling a little adventurous, then check this out.


  1. Nice review Charlie - insightful as usual. Would you ever guess Dharmonic Deluxe and Kitty Rhombus have come together on numerous occasions? :)


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