One could call the Dresden Dolls absurd and one would be correct. One could call them elegant and one would also be correct. That’s the thing with the Dresden Dolls- they’re not exactly the easiest band to pigeonhole. They’ve been labeled everything from punk cabaret to theatrical new wave rock. After their triumphant self-titled debut album with quirky and highly unique numbers such as “Girl Anachronism” and “Coin-Operated Boy,” (which was played on rather frequent rotation on MTV2, garnering a growing fanbase) we can do little but throw up our hands and exclaim, “Who cares? They’re brilliant!” The show goes on with Yes, Virginia, their sophomore album.
The duo comprising the Dolls includes Amanda Palmer with her shotgun vocals and playful keyboard chords, and Brian Viglione’s powerhouse percussion and bass. Yes, Virginia marks their second album which celebrates their rise from the underground of alternative punk to their more mainstream welcoming. Compared to its predecessor, this album takes all the cheek and vigor from its last collection of songs and creates an equally energetic and steely symphony of melodic dissonance that they are so revered for. Yes, Virginia audio-winks at each and every listener. The Dresden Dolls’ penchant for black “bleeding-heart” humor doesn’t fail to entertain in each song’s show-and-tell of dreary Tim Burton-esque narrative. With tracks entitled “Mandy Goes to Med School” and “Me & The Minibar,” tongue is set clearly in cheek. Palmer wails and screeches about everything from morning masturbation to Holocaust-denying old women while Viglione rapid-fire drums away with an unmistakably catchy rhythm.
Their ability to create their own brand of rhythm and rhyme places them within their own league of musicians who are bound to be a set point of departure for many imitators and fervent admirers; they are not the sort of band who fades away with the fad. The image of the rich decadence of society and humanity is ingrained onto their album covers, likening to a vaudeville portrait of decaying theaters and sorrowful graphitized hallways and stairwells. The aspect of costume that both Palmer and Viglione dedicate to their performance and persona adds to this vaudeville feel of cabaret and punk. Truly talented story-tellers within their art form, The Dresden Dolls will continue rocking out under their bowler hat, striped stocking guise and Alice in Wonderland repertoire as we follow with eager ears.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.