March 22, 2003

Dredg "El Cielo"

What the hell is this? Sure, I asked that question with Crawling Chaos, but at least with that record, I had a leg to stand on, and with the passing of twenty years, that could be passed off as a historic document. Dredg are to me, now, what I'm sure Crawling Chaos were back then. Unlike Crawling Chaos--who were something that people could dismiss as the odd release of an independent label--Dredg has no such crutch, having been released on the artist-unfriendly Interscope.

It really, truly is an odd pairing. Who knew that the label that dropped The Dismemberment Plan because they weren't what they had in mind (and who subsequently became massive in spite of a major label) would, four years later, present this to the public? It seemed like the risk-taking days of Interscope (who signed such non-commerical acts as Primus, Clawhammer, Brainiac, and Clawhammer) were long a thing of the past. Who would have thought that a label would invest some serious money into an act that is destined to go nowhere for them? I just don't see how--or what--Interscope sees in Dredg. They're not a radio-friendly band; they don't fit into any genres, they can't be marketed to teens, and album-oriented radio--where this could have possibly been exploited as a weird stoner concept album--has been a dead medium for the past fifteen years.

Funnier still is the fact that El Cielo must be an anomaly to the people at Interscope. The press for it has been, erm, how shall we say, awkward. I haven't seen much in the way of press for El Cielo, save for a few places that care for this kind of music. The indie press seems to think--and understandably so--that this is a bad pairing of emo and "experimental" music that doesn't come off as anything more than really bad prog rock if Black Heart Procession made bad prog rock. Many of the reviews for it in the major-label loved publications have been of the head-scratching variety. Having never really heard music like this, they seem to be at a loss for words when it comes to comparisions; the Radiohead comparisons are understandable, as are Tool, but not Limp Bizkit, Staind, Pink Floyd, Korn, or Linkin Park! I seriously doubt the soon-to-be-tattooed-out, pretty boy high school thug type that these last few bands are marketed to would even have anything to say to something like El Cielo. I certainly bet they've never heard Dead Can Dance or Three Mile Pilot--two band who, at times, remind me of Dredg. I hope that more people hear them, but I sense that they're missing their audience because of their label. Fans of bigger bands won't go for them, they don't have the "cred," even though they've been around for ages, and the fans of the type of music that Interscope pushes won't go for this weird, original music--if their publicity firm even promotes it.

As for me, I'm really taken in by Dredg. Setting aside that I think the fact that such a record can exist in 2003, I think that they've got a pretty interesting little thing going on. Dredg never sits in one place--they can go from loud rock freakout to simply inexplicible, and yet they escape unharmed, master of their own little universe. Dredg mastermind Gavin Hayes (I call him that because I really can't figure out if anyone else plays as "dredg") has a voice that's quite operatic, and when placed over the grand, sweeping instrumental backing of El Cielo, it sounds like nothing you've heard before. Only problem, though, is that occasionally the "different" music being made by Dredg gets a little top-heavy; unlike bands who make grand music like this, Dredg haven't quite mastered the art of cohesion. El Cielo could be improved if I felt like all of these great ideas were going in some direction. Unlike, say, Godspeed You Black Emperor, who make epic orchestral pieces that sound like different songs melded together, Dredg make a lot of songs (sixteen on El Cielo) but it seems so divided, like they're trying to make an album from an orchestral movement.

Perhaps this will be corrected in the future. I certainly hope so; El Cielo could be uncompromising and relentless, but it just feels like they're trying too hard to make as many odd musical statements at once. It's refreshing as hell, even if it doesn't really gel. Though it's a tad puzzling, El Cielo is a great little record, and Dredg are certainly a band worth watching. Maybe over time, they'll develop their (excellent) ideas into a more cohesive-sounding record, one that doesn't feel disjointed. Though I'm still puzzled by the fact that they're on Interscope, it doesn't take anything away from Dredg, and here's hoping they won't get dropped because of who they are--one of the oddest bands today.

--Joseph Kyle

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