February 10, 2006

Dropsonic "Insects With Angel Wings"

Joseph and I don’t go to shows together that often (mainly because we don’t live in the same city...and because he’s a hermit), but when we do it’s always a memorable experience. I remember when we went to Austin to see Spoon at Stubb’s, shortly before they released Girls Can Tell. Joseph got a bit tipsy that night, and spent the entire drive back to southeast Texas ranting semi-coherently about how great their performance was. During this rant, he tried to classify their sound: “They’re not punk. They’re not indie. They’re...ALTERNATIVE!!!” At first, I thought it was the dumbest thing he’d ever said in the history of our friendship...and the fact that he repeated it about a trillion times during the drive didn’t help either. After a couple more years of keeping track of Spoon, as well as seemingly thousands of other bands of the same stature, Joseph’s statement began to make a bit more sense.

Every once in a while, I encounter an underground band that, while not necessarily better, different than its contemporaries, possesses the elusive X factor that makes them a bit more likely to receive mainstream acceptance. (No, I’m not talking about publicists, you cynical bastard.) It’s this X factor that separates Weezer from Pavement, Oasis from GBV, and Radiohead from Hood. It may be the strength of the hooks, the quality of the musicianship, or simply the polish behind the presentation. Regardless, when you hear these bands on college radio, they sound a lot bigger than everyone else on the playlist, even if they really aren’t. The steadily increasing popularity of Spoon is proof positive that they possess the X factor that Joseph was talking about. I’m saying all of this to you because when I heard Atlanta band Dropsonic’s latest album Insects with Angel Wings, the very first thing that came to my head was: “They’re not punk. They’re not indie. They’re...”

Dropsonic is the embodiment of the phrase “power trio.” Front man Don Dixon has a strong and flexible voice that combines the forlorn vibrato of Thom Yorke with the nasal snarl of Billy Corgan, and he is able to consistently wreck the mike while simultaneously playing brash power chords, chugging riffs and speedy slide solos on his guitar. Meanwhile, bassist Dave Chase and drummer Brian Hunter do their best Led Zeppelin impersonation by navigating syncopated rhythms and odd time signatures while never losing the cock-rock swagger that makes women move. Together, the three of them write catchy songs that nonetheless require an incredible amount of instrumental skill to pull off, and would sound right at home alongside any of the major alt-rock denizens of the ‘90s. The drop-D art-metal of “Spiders” is the best song that Soundgarden never wrote; the stop-start rhythms and playful riffs of the anti-televangelist screed “Everyone’s a Stranger” condenses Stone Temple Pilots’ entire Tiny Music album into one song; “The Big Nothing” is a slow, stately piano ballad that should pique the interest of anyone who’s been arrested by the karma police.

This album’s only weakness is that the lyrics flirt too often with banality. When Dixon wails, “One day I’ll have you down on your knees,” it sounds threatening enough; when he follows it up with the even more cliched “I hope it rains on your wedding day,” the threat is instantly defused. Album closer “Insane” begins with the revelatory (sarcasm alert) lyric, “When you’re insane, everyone thinks you’re crazy,” and spirals even further down the pit of suck with obvious rhyme after obvious rhyme. Then again, none of the artists I’ve mentioned in the last paragraph (except for Radiohead) were known for amazing lyrics, and Dixon is such a good singer that he makes even his crappier lyrics sound tolerable. Why Insects with Angel Wings isn’t on a major label is beyond me...and this is one of the rare occasions where that’s actually a COMPLIMENT.

--Sean Padilla

Artist Website: http://www.dropsonic.com

No comments: