The Dandy Warhols return to roots in ‘Distortland’
Augie Collins | Monday, April 18, 2016
What’s in a name? Well, for The Dandy Warhols, it’s everything. The band’s name highlights the constant stream of witty humor and irony they have been lacing their songs with since they put out their first album, “Dandy’s Rule OK?,” in 1994. Now the Dandies are back with their ninth studio album, “Distortland,” which pays homage to the groups’ roots in Portland, Oregon. Even the album cover shows a dreary, smog-covered skyline of the city. The Dandies have remained offstage and out of the limelight for quite some time, but “Distortland” sees the band slowly coming out of the shadows. If anything, the Dandies know how to produce an album that touts the trademark sound they have been cultivating over the decades.
By having the tapes recorded in lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s basement on an ’80s cassette recorder before handing them over to be mixed and refined, The Dandy Warhols stay true to their normal grungy, dirty sound in “Distortland.” The end result is an album that is, as Taylor-Taylor put it, “organized like a pop record but still has the sonic garbage still in there.”
The album kicks off with the opener “Search Party,” which consists of drawling and blurry vocals, while a synthesizer lends a constant and edgy heartbeat to the song. Thankfully though, the best is yet to come. The poster child of the album, “You Are Killing Me,” produces an infectious melody that is easy to get hooked on. The constant strum of Peter Holmstrom on the base reverberates throughout the single, making for a great pop song that could see significant air play. Continuing the poppy trend, a lazy beat punctuates the album’s second single, “Catcher in the Rye,” which is aptly named to reflect the Dandies’ playful attitude of being different than all of those other “bland” music acts out there. The final single “STYGGO” features the tap of a hand drum in the background while Taylor-Taylor succumbs to a few verses of “doo-doo-doos” that will have listeners humming along even if they cannot make out the raspy phrases. The lyrics in these songs are not quite as wryly poetic as previous Dandies hits, but classic Dandy Warhol beats anchor them down.
Straying away from the use of synthesizers and surefire melodies, the Dandies choose to delve into a muddier sound on some of the other tracks. While this works in their favor in some instances, sometimes it flops. “All the Girls in London” makes use of a wheezing accordion-like synth noise, along with cracking vocals that makes me feel as if Taylor-Taylor is belting out this track in a seedy bar, while onlookers stomp their feet and clap their hands. The song reminds me of Shane MacGowan’s slurred rendition of “London Girl,” and while that may have worked for MacGowan, I think the Dandies missed their mark on this chaotic track.
Overall, “Distortland” produces a remarkably Dandies sound that old fans will love, and new ones will be drawn to. The album presents a spread of enticing options, but listeners may be disappointed in areas where the Dandies took a risk and fell short. However, even the less-catchy tracks lend an element to the record that further cements what the Dandies are all about. Taylor-Taylor remarks, “I’ve got to admit I’m too old for this s***” in the last song, “The Grow-Up Song,” and I know in my heart this may be true. From a band that has been around for decades, this statement seems akin to flashing the peace sign and flying away, but could we blame them if they did? Something tells me the Dandies aren’t quite ready to call it quits though, and we may see another set of more mature Dandies hits in the future.
Tracks: “You Are Killing Me,” “Catcher in the Rye”
If you like: The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Raconteurs