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Friday, September 14, 2012

Dredg -- Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy


Dredg's The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion set my expectations for Dredg's future work pretty low. When I heard that Dan the Automator, a hip hop producer, was producing their new album, my expectations dropped even lower. When Dredg announced that their newest album would be called Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, my expectation simply turned into dread. When I saw the album cover, a girl in her underwear with a goofy mask on, my dread turned to mockery. Surely the band had consumed too many of the drugs they praised on their last album? The horrible initial feedback did Chuckles in. I gave it a quick listen and dismissed it. Quick listens aren't good for much, though. Considering Dredg created a couple of the best rock albums of the last two decades, it would be silly to dismiss any of their work without diving a little deeper into it. Every Album I Own Reviews to the rescue!
Let's do a classic, late 90's, customer review-style, track-by-track revew:

Another Tribe: 4/10 The Dan the Automator influence is immediately apparent. A pulsing, but throwback sounding keyboard sample and an electric drum beat kick off the song. There's just not enough to this track, though. Gavin Hayes does his best to sell the hook, but it's not there. Still, there's some Dredg-y touches around the edges that stop the song from becoming a complete wash--they're most obvious in the bridge. It's  actually disappointing when the chorus kicks back in.

Upon Returning: 7/10 Almost the opposite intro of the first song. Pulsating guitar riffs and a real, ancient sounding drumbeat lead off this one. The beat and repeating guitar riff are pretty irresistible. The keyboard in the chorus is insufferable. It needs to go. The post-chorus is where it's at. Nice soft melody from Gavin, and echoing, mysterious guitar. Nice guitar picking and old school drum beat on the bridge. Wise to end in the spaciness of the post-chorus. Definitely an improvement on the first track. "Upon Returning" is strangely addictive.

The Tent: 8/10 Old school vibe immediate. Spacey, trippy, slow. The Issac Hayesesque, wah-wah guitar chord that chimes in every two seconds is reminiscent of Portishead. Nice falsetto from Gavin. The chorus is weird, but I can dig it. Slow, grinding bass. Very interesting, chilled out song.

Somebody Is Laughing: 3/10 Now this is just bad. The electric drums do not work. Neither do the goofy keyboard samples The "oh, oh, oh"'s on the chorus and sprinkled throughout the song are even worse. The subtle guitar playing in the chorus is the only thing I enjoy about this track.

Down Without a Fight: 9/10 Now this song really should not work. Groovy, dancey-synth line and beat in the intro that slowly builds back up in the verse. Not much guitar whatsoever. And above all, it's a pessimistic track. This song is not Dredg....but for some reason I can't get enough of it. The synth and beat are remarkably well done. Gavin's hook is like candy. The pessimism is...lovely. Just because "positivity breeds positive happenings" doesn't mean everything will work out okay. The bridge is perfect and sets up the excellent outro as Gavin repeatedly sings the line "never coming back" over the chorus before the post-chorus and some suddenly live sounding drums take the song out.

The Ornament: 10/10 Dredg found the greatest (and maybe only) success  in their previous album...dredging up a new song out of a small piece of their older material with "Information." If that song was gold, "The Ornament" is platinum. Dredg use the base of the guitar outro from "Matroshka", the closer from Catch Without Arms, to craft on entirely new song. The result is "The Ornament," the most melancholy, longing song Dredg have ever recorded. The lonely saxaphone is an incredible touch. The reverb on the beat is perfect. I'd take an entire album like this.

The Thought of Losing You: 8/10 This is the album single, and it's not bad. Nice guitar riff, good mysterious keyboard work and vocals. The hook is very good. The programmed sounding drums start off as a weakness, but become an asset. Dredg usually feature some of the most innovative drum work around. It was ballsy to cut that away from their music with all this electronic work, and while they certainly suffer because of it, they don't on this track. If they ever want to have a dance party, they could easily play the songs off Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy that actually work to get people moving. With that said, this is about as close to disco as acceptable. Any more, and I'd cut this track score in half.

Kalathat: 5/10 This would be a pretty beautiful, nearly Nick Drake-like acoustic song, if not for the juvenile lyrics about someone who dedicates himself to his wife and child and I guess never really lives or something. I'm sorry we can't all be in a band and drive around the country and sleep with groupies and do drugs.

Sun Goes Down: 2/10 I like the haunting intro and its distant piano, the sitar-sounding guitar in the verse. The rest is yuck. The basis of this song sounds like something pre-programmed on a mid-90's Yamaha keyboard...while someone stands over it banging a tambourine on their wrist.

Where I'll End Up: 2/10 Oh, no! After the surge of good in the middle, the album sure went back downhill! This song sounds like a Beach Boys castoff from the 80's...with Uncle Jesse playing the bongos. Even Dredg making a brief appearance in the bridge can't help it, let alone save it. Make it stop!

Before it Began: 2/10 Is this supposed to be salsa music or something? Talk about ending with a whimper. The very distant guitar sounds like High Noon, Dan the Automator sounds like he's trying to make a throwback to early Cuban Beat or something, and who knows, it is all over before it goes anywhere anyway.

Averaged Score: 6/10
Non-Averaged Score: Tough to score this album higher than a five with how weak some of the tracks are, especially the ones found in the final stretch. Dredg tried to do something totally new, and it kind of bit them in the butt. Still, there are some genuinely good songs here, and a ghost of the good album that could have been. I'll give the band the benefit of the doubt, and let the average stand. 6/10.

NOTE: If this album worked completely in the realm it occupies best, it would qualify as a great "after the party album," which I have previously defined here. In this case, the ghosts of galaxies would drowsily drift through the room.

2011 Superball Music
1. Another Tribe 3:46
2. Upon Returning 3:51
3. The Tent 4:46
4. Somebody Is Laughing 3:31
5. Down Without a Fight 3:51
6. The Ornament 4:06
7. The Thought of Losing You 3:34
8. Kalathat 3:23
9. Sun Goes Down 3:48
10. Where I'll End Up 3:56
11. Before it Began 2:58

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