Despite having that hipster vibe about them that would normally give me a few second thoughts about whether there is substance beneath the style, Baltimore’s Dope Body confounded that odd notion of mine by letting loose ‘Natural History’, an album that rode all the way into hell and back out the other side leaving behind rubber tracks, broken glass and the odd black eye. That’s generally how the record felt as it battered at one end of the scale and went for foot to the floor kaleidoscopic energy at the other. It was such a breathtaking mix that admittedly resulted, in my humble opinion, in the feeling that ‘Lifer’ wasn’t up to much, on first listen. Or at least it didn’t to me. I was perhaps hoping for a bit more of the seemingly hedonistic vibe that went on with ‘Natural History’, but that only made me more blinkered I suppose. I was finding the first half of the record a bit of a drag, lacking the desired punch, taking a bit long to get going, and the second half feeling better, but not up to the level I was expecting.
But I encouraged myself to give it a few more listens, and what resulted was pleasant discovery in that I actually do like this record. No, I actually love it, as much as anything they did before. What grabbed me before was some of the insane noises that Zachary Utz was able to strangle out of his guitar. There’s not really an element of surprise like that any more nor any vast experimentation, but once I removed those blinkers, I noticed there’s a definite progression in their sound. Although the quiet-loud dynamics of their sound remain, there’s a definite ear cupped towards melody – indeed Andrew Laumann’ is as much a proponent as anyone in the band for this – his vocal performance on ‘Rare Air’ and the closing ‘Even In The End’ is the construct that propels these tracks along, while the lead single ‘Repo Man’ showcases the band’s progression in those aforementioned dynamics through its almost stalking tension before the inevitable explosion of distortion.
Dope Body – Repo Man (official video)
Perhaps the biggest similarities to their previous work lies in the track ‘I’d Say To You’, the shortest track proper (bar the ‘Intro’ track), with a pulsing guitar-bass riff exploding into a memorable chorus, and the fantastically on-edge ‘Day By Day’. Otherwise there’s ‘Echo’, which creeps along like a panther stalking its prey astride a simple, slow, lounge-esque bassline, before going all savage in the chorus as it pounces into anarchy, and the excellent ‘Nu Sensation’, which rides across a jangling, galloping electric twang before Laumann goes all Marc Bolan-like towards the end.
Despite initially making me feel a weird double-take, Dope Body have quite brilliantly managed to progress their blueprint into slightly more mature boundaries, but without losing the primal edge that made them stand out to me a few years back. It would have been very easy just to go balls-out wild and free all over again but the proof in a good album is how much it opens up to you as you listen to it over and over. ‘Lifer‘ is an affirming testament to that, as cerebral as it is primal and as smart as it- is reckless.