Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Album: Dinowalrus - %

% (Dinowalrus)
Album: %
Kanine, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

When I first heard Dinowalrus recorded, I wasn't taken with the music. I didn't understand it and I couldn't digest it. However, after seeing them live, I began to grasp what they're all about. And I decided with their album release this week, it was time for me to give their recordings another go.

From a relatively young band with a name like Dinowalrus, you'd certainly be justified not expecting a particularly mature album. But for a very indie Brooklyn band, Dinowalrus proves with % that they are as grown up as anyone. The record is sophisticated and polished and is certainly a serious and substantial undertaking. This isn't scene, it isn't attitude, it's music. And maybe that sounds obvious in a music review, but it's really not - most bands are at least partially about something other than the music - and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But if Dinowalrus has another motive, it doesn't show here.

Peter Feigenbaum, Dinowalrus's frontman, told me he doesn't listen a whole lot of to contemporary music, partly "in order to maintain aesthetic sovereignty." And that clearly works for Dinowalrus, because % sounds like no one else. It's dense, spacey psychedelia with deep grooves, raging guitar riffs and a million noises you can't quite identify. The songs are epic and multidimensional but rock hard. Sounds here are clearly a medium, the album a collection of art pieces, but that makes this sound pretentious and burdensome. Instead, it's fun and beautiful and badass, all at the same time.

My main criticism of Dinowalrus in the past has come from a certain amorphousness and I still see that here to some extent. It's not defining of the entire album, but there are certain places where I wonder if a particular chorus or verse might work just as well in a different song. The large components of each song aren't always glued together as well as I'd like.

But on a smaller scale, it would be impossible to fault the band for their arrangements. Each song is a complex mesh of sounds, painstakingly engineered and carefully, dynamically mixed. The songs are at once wild and disciplined, improvisational and meticulously planned.

Though the band's sonic palate is uniquely their own, it sometimes seems to want for breadth - every song is slathered in a similar dark, reverbed haze. However, there is always a trade-off between cohesion and variety and % manages a better balance than most. From the tightly-wound half-kraut, half-punk "Electric Car, Gas Guitar" to the bluesy riff of "Cage Those Pythons" to the warm, dreamy "Haze on the Mobius Strip," the songs create their own rich space for the listener to crawl inside.

It's hard to pick highlights from the album. "BEAD" may be the big hit song (err...) but its psych-funk groove (think ESG, Liquid Liquid or Konk on acid) is matched by the monumental krautrock-influenced anthem "I Hate Numbers." "Nuke Duke 'Em" burns like a fuse to a block of TNT, twisting and turning as it consumes itself.

% is original to its core. Though you can spot plenty of reference points in it, you won't see anything resembling imitation. There is simply no substitute. If you like this, you better get your hands on it because it's one of a kind.

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