Dope Body – Lifer

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Dope Body
Lifer
Drag City

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.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Lifer’ here

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Big Business @ The Key Club, Leeds, 21/11/2014

+ Black Moth + Blacklisters 

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When The Cockpit in Leeds closed down earlier in the year after 20 years in the business, it was a day of sadness for not just myself, but for many. The venue had been a hub for indie and rock in the city, hosting many gigs across the years which indeed saw many bands pass through en route to greater arenas. Sadly, it was deemed beyond economical repair and so the venue, situated underneath the busy railway station and affectionately resembling an air raid shelter, was closed down to perhaps the surprise of some. Indeed it was held in high regard and anyone who ever passed through that venue’s doors for a show will attest to that.

 

It seems endemic of the fate that seems to await many rock and alternative venues in this day and age, but in true testament to the adage that rock will never die (unless you’re Gene Simmons of course), venues tend to spring back up, in the big cities at least, and this is true of the Key Club, launched by former owners of the Cockpit, itself located where resided the club’s former Bassment and Subculture venues, in which I saw Darkest Hour years ago, and played as a member of a band respectively. Not much has changed about the place, bar the stage being moved from the back of the venue to the front, and a balcony overlooking the main floor now walled over, so you can’t see who’s off for a quick slash any more. Not that you’d want to anyway. Still, it holds some good memories for me and so I’m happy to see it back in use.

First up tonight are Blacklisters, whom are thankfully more focused on the task at hand than when I last saw them at the Brudenell Social Club supporting Dope Body. I want them to succeed at their craft and they aren’t too shabby tonight, even if the crowd aren’t too enthused at this point. The new material they play fits in neatly with older material including their destroying  rendition of Kasabian’s ‘Clubfoot’ and ‘Trickfuck’. Then there’s Black Moth, a local quintet who’ve made a few waves recently on bigger pages than this one. Their frontwoman adds a swagger to their proposition which isn’t exactly unique – driving dirty rock riffs amidst a slightly occult tone – but they know how to get a crowd going and there is enough life in their songs to consider them potentially outgrowing the confines of venues the size of the Key Club.

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Black Moth

Big Business, much like the Key Club owners, had their hand forced somewhat as back surgery for Scott Martin resulted in the guitarist sitting outside the band’s UK tour, which is currently ongoing as they support Mastodon. Alas, it’s the original two-piece of Jared Warren and Coady Willis, of Karp, Murder City Devils, the Melvins and just about anything righteous, who turn up, announcing themselves in showbiz style, before getting into material from their latest release, ‘Battlefields Forever’. It’s at frenetic pace to begin with, with ‘Chump Chance’ and ‘No Vowels’ quickly getting out of the traps before a fun run through ‘Hands Up’, which the front rows of the crowd duly take part in by raising their hands skywards to its refrain. The set seems a short one – only seven songs, which even an extended version of ‘Just As The Day is Dawning’ hardly filling up set time, but for whatever brevity the band make up for in effort and energy. Warren pumps out the low grooves and Willis just goes all animal like always, making this performance a particularly righteous one by the time ‘Lonely Lyle’ stomps to a conclusion.

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During that last song I rocked out a little too hard and my glasses flew off my head. Alas, they were found minutes later, trodden on and no use to man nor beast. Ah well. It didn’t detract from an enjoyable evening as neither did the rain that poured into the night.

Peter Clegg

Cattle – Self-Titled EP

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Cattle
Self-Titled EP

The bass guitar. Often a symbol of groove, depth, and funk. Depending on your angle, and indeed what style of music you play, the bass can either be the one thing that hooks you into a song, or a powerful weapon of forcible downward magnitude, as ever with stoner, sludge and doom. There are those bands who either dispense with the bass altogether, and there are some for whom the bassist is seemingly unimportant (Metallica’s ‘…And Justice For All’ a seeming example for Jason Newsted fans).

But although the bass as a leading instrument is neither new or unique, there aren’t many that use the bass in such a way as Leeds’ Cattle, an intriguing three-piece, eschewing the usual need for guitars and dispensing with them in favour of a vocalist, bassist and two drummers, which becomes the integral part of their sound on this four-track EP. They fall somewhere between math rock and noise rock, juxtaposing often between the two. But whatever, they realise the importance of the bassist as both an instrument and as a force, exposing every groove, nuance, and occasional bludgeon. The first track, ‘Rockets’ ratchets up tension and atmosphere at first before the vocals come in, kicking off a delightful riff-fest. The second track, ‘Whoa Bessie’, is for me the highlight of this release, a bit like Big Business riding the Unsane bull and becoming every bit as much of a rodeo as the title suggests by speeding up and slowing down to great effect, like sailing the choppiest waters but without the feeling of seasickness. The bass is allowed to stand right out and at times it even resembles a bit of a lounge session, such as the toe-tapping riff that forms part of ‘Pyramid Shaped Hole’. When they do drop into noise rock territory, its every bit as trenched and rocking as you’d expect, but that they allow the bass to sometimes seem so sparse and alone, above the excellent percussive tones, occasionally bordering on minimalist, giving them an extra edge and a slight uniquity that often goes missing so often in bands these days.

It will be interesting to see where they head next, but Cattle are a rare breed indeed, and the curious amongst us will no doubt find appreciation in this band.

Peter Clegg

Buy/download ‘Self Titled’ EP here
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Meatpacker/Sky:Lark! – split

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Meatpacker/Sky:Lark!
Meatpacker/Sky:Lark!

Bringing out what was potentially the very last release of 2013, Leicester’s Meatpacker return once again with their fifth release in three years, and their third split release in a row, after teaming previously with Mangle and with Death Tripper. Here they return to the ‘A’ side after devastating on the ‘B’ side on the Death Tripper split, and they return here with a few slightly longer songs and a few covers, most notably, the cover of The Offspring’s ‘Have You Ever’, which bears hardly any resemblance in the beginning due to the rapid fire blasting that takes place over much of the first half of the song, but by the end it becomes apparent as the band return to the pace of the original. It’s a hair-raiser, I guarantee, but it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the band’s contribution here, which is the best they’ve produced so far – between The Offspring covers and that of grind legends Macabre’s ‘McMassacre’, their original material is as strong as ever, still blazingly fast but with a few more tempo changes early doors (thanks to the slightly longer ‘Death Warmed Up’ and ‘Baby Guts’). They’re emerging now as one of the best grind bands in this country and its to be hoped that more people begin to take notice.

By contrast Sky:Lark! are an odd fit to go alongside the blurring speed of Meatpacker but that’s what makes some splits so great – the juxtaposition between the two bands make for an enriching experience and indeed that is the case here. Not to be confused with the Canadian pop rockers from the seventies, or the Italian power metal band, neither of whom possess a dividing colon in their name, this London trio provide some tasty post-hardcore/noise rock-ish riffs to bite into. Production wise its not the greatest; whether that’s intentional or not I couldn’t say, but the jangly, off-kilter nature of the guitar is somewhat grating at louder volumes which is a shame, because there’s nothing actually wrong with what they’re doing. ‘7 Bodies’ and ‘Born Head First’ are prime examples of tight angular riffing with killer grooves and various yells and screams being thrown in for good measure and each and every track is bloody riveting, and make for a great offset to Meatpacker’s drilling attack.

I can’t see that this is available via Sky:Lark at the moment, or even which label is putting this record out, but you can obtain this via Meatpacker on a name-your-price scheme through Bandcamp and it will be coming via tape and vinyl format too. Stick a couple of quid on it and get yourself some quality underground noise to ring in the New Year.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Meatpacker/Sky:Lark!’ here (name-your-price)
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KEN Mode – Entrench

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KEN Mode
Entrench
Season of Mist

KEN Mode hit it big last year after scoring a Juno award for 2011’s ‘Venerable’, after which you may have expected the Winnipeg, Manitoba natives to perhaps not sound so angry, so intense. Instead they buck the trend. It didn’t seem possible for KEN Mode to get any more intense after ‘Venerable’s bloodlust, but that’s precisely what they’ve managed with ‘Entrench’. Their fifth album in ten years begins predictably manic with ‘Counter Complex Culture’, and it doesn’t take long for the venomous trio to bare their teeth. ‘No, I’m In Charge’ and ‘Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick’ are both examples of people you’d hate to meet in a darkened alley. Those speedier thrillrides are balanced by a mixture of slower, heavier, and occasionally more atmospheric. Tracks like ‘The Terror Pulse’ and ‘Daeodon’ are huge city monsters roaming across the space they occupy; ‘Figure Your Life Out’ is like being in the ring with a champion counter-puncher who just keeps picking you off time after time with jab after jab. The riff is underpinned by some fabulous rolling bass and a strutting beat that underpins the song and eventually collapses into one almighty haymaker.
 
And then there’s the forays into post-metal, most notably ‘Romeo Must Never Know’, which sees vocalist Jesse Matthewson whispering over a quiet-loud riff that eventually explodes into a dark, dramatic finish, while ‘Monomyth’ takes the classical approach and feels equally climactic with stunning string orchestration. Put simply, ‘Entrench’ is quite possibly one of the most enjoyable treats to come my way this year – its raging, its angry, its downright tormentous, with even the quieter moments seeing the tension ratched up like a powderkeg ready to explode, with ‘Monomyth’ being the moment the red mist finally lifts and we can look back upon what a beautiful rampage this is.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Entrench’ here
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Dope Body – Saturday 7″

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Dope Body
Saturday 7″
Drag City

Last year saw Baltimore’s hybrid noise/punk/rock machine Dope Body emerge amidst a hail of smoke and luminance as they came into further consciousness following the thoroughly brilliant and diverse ‘Natural History’, which showcased dazzling guitar work, foot to the floor rock anthems with punk rock intensity and hip-swaggering joy. I caught a bit of them live when they toured the UK last October, and though I only saw three songs, it proved what a phenomenal act they are in the making.

Saturday’, a 7” single, is the first new material to emerge from the band since that album. The A side features ‘Leather Head’, a song they’ve been wheeling out live up to now; a brooding track riding a bass-driven pulse and a primal beat before jumping into a refrain of ‘could’ve been anybody/should’ve been nobody’. If this track was an animal, it’d be a panther, its slinky dark body stalking its prey in the shadows of the night, before racing out for a swift kill. Conversely, the B-side ‘Youth Relic’, is much like the Dope Body of ‘Natural History’, beginning a little like ‘Road Dog’ with a build-up on the hi-hat, crescendoing with more sonic fireworks from the supremely talented Zachary Utz.

Saturday’ drops on Monday 18 th March through Drag City, and this feral beast keeps on kerb-crawling through the night. I’ll be well pleased if this confirms a new album for this year, as right now I can’t tire of this band. This release might not be the joyous celebration that was ‘Natural History’, nor the skronk-punk days of old, but it’s a super fine morsel of meat to savour for now.

Peter Clegg

Dope Body – Youth Relic/Saturday promo
[vimeo 60007514]

Pre-order ‘Saturday’ 7” here

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Live Review: Dope Body @ Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 23/09/2012

w/ Blacklisters, Fawn Spots + Two Trick Horse

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It feels as though I’ve been the only one counting down the weeks and days to seeing Baltimore, Maryland’s Dope Body hit these shores, aside from the PR company who brought them to my attention. Their latest album ‘Natural History‘ is one of the standout albums of the year, but you’d be hard pressed to find it making waves in many other places apart from right here, and indeed the turnout for this gig is moderate at best. No one can blame the Brudenell Social Club, who are always bringing over scores of alternative acts and putting on some of the best shows in the city of Leeds. They haven’t won a bunch of awards for nothing. Still, I feel like Dope Body are a sleeper band of sorts, waiting for the day the wider press wakes them up. I suspect that they don’t care for popularity – tell me guys if I’m wrong – but in a weird way it feels like some sort of dark secret waiting to be revealed.

Me and my brother-in-law arrive around halfway through Two Trick Horse‘s set, swigging our beer as they crank out one crunching riff after another. The noise trio don’t manage to get many people off the comfy seats at the front of the venue, but it turns out to be a bit of a shame, as they juxtapose between riffs excellently, angling through songs as much as their flexible bassist, who could probably trump anyone in a limbo contest. Still, they become my new discovery of the day, and it’s to be hoped they can be a bigger part in this new wave of noise rock bands that seem to be emerging.

By contrast, York trio Fawn Spots seem a little more awkward, initially overcoming one or two technical glitches to ramble through a set that’s at times part upbeat indie rock and part post-hardcore without the rage. Not my cup of tea but there’s definitely room for these guys to develop their potential, depending on which side of the fence they fall upon.

I really, really want to like Blacklisters, I really do. Their unhinged racket makes for some of the best heavy music Leeds has to offer, but tonight they’re on home turf and that ends up with the singer basically dicking around between songs too much. He says they wouldn’t play ‘Trickfuck’ because ‘everything knows how it goes, everyone goes mental…‘ etc. I suspect really its cos they overran their set. When they do crank out songs like ‘Mouthpiece’ and new track ‘The Bully’ they are truly a force, their vocalist being suitably imposing and sneery, but the constant banter ruins any attempt at continuity, which is what you’d want if you want a band like this to cave your head in. Maybe next time, in a venue they can’t quite call home.

Still, all these events conspire so that by the time tonight’s headliners hit the floor, I’m already thinking about that last train home. There’s time to bear witness to two of ‘Natural History‘s finest cuts: a cracking opening salvo of ‘Weird Mirror’, starting with its bleeps and bloops before taking us on a kaliedoscopic rock journey; and ‘Road Dog’. Vocalist Andrew Laumann appearing like the bastard lovechild of Iggy Pop and Alex Zane, seemingly feeling every convulsion that rumbles through the floor, twisting like a python and going fucking mental when required, i.e. at all times. Zachary Utz is also a dab hand at guitar, firing off a seering, joyous solo during ‘Road Dog’. Alas, we can’t really continue the experience beyond the third song (a number I’m honest enough to say I couldn’t identify), and leave as the opening, brooding strains of ‘Out of my Mind’ enter the fray.

It was a decent turnout if disappointing nowhere near a sellout. Fair enough, the Brudenell isn’t the easiest place to get to on a Tuesday night, but I’m still scratching my head at why the wider UK rock press haven’t picked up on Dope Body yet. Are they too hipster, or something? Sure, they don’t all dress like the hardest rocking band, but why should that matter? Their appeal stretches wider than the confines of their current popularity. I’m sure if they can keep producing records like ‘Natural History‘ the penny will drop for us here in the UK. Irrespective of that, hopefully Dope Body’s return to these will be more well received next time. If they can party out like that all night, I’m pretty sure we owe it to them to do the same.

Peter Clegg

TWO TRICK HORSE

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FAWN SPOTS

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BLACKLISTERS

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DOPE BODY

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