Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 15/4
Death By Drowning
Written by: AP on 22/02/2017 22:43:53
The Dogs’ thing apparently is to release a new album on the first Monday of every year, which one would imagine puts a lot of pressure on the band to deliver high quality consistently. By that fact alone, it would seem prudent to approach this latest outing of theirs, “Death by Drowning”, with skepticism — and when I was introduced to the Norwegian garage-rock/punk outfit through their supporting Kvelertak on tour last year, honestly, it was rather the showmanship of vocalist Kristopher Schau that left an indelible mark than the music, most of which felt reduced to merely soundtracking his antics. Some of the songs did strike a chord with me though, and one of these is the opening track “Oslo” — a tongue-in-cheek ode to the group’s hometown and, as it turns out, a track which is quite representative of the record’s general standard.
There are two aspects to this, however. The record is chock full of catchy tunes roughly cut into driving, badass, hi-energy bangers and slower, moodier ballads, but at the same time, that juxtaposition is the only semblance of variety that “Death by Drowning” has to offer. Luckily, the somewhat uniform style of the album seldom becomes a distraction, as like Kvelertak, The Dogs are acutely aware of how to push basic ideas to their maximum potential. “Oslo” storms through the gates with a simple riff dripping with impetus and attitude to go with Schau’s assertion of ”Our town, our rules!”, each chord stroke matched with an organ key, and then hooks the listener to its deliciously lowbrow rallying call, ”O-S-L-O! O-S-L-O! OS-LO! OS-LO!”, in the chorus. The song bears a striking resemblance to Kvelertak’s “Blodtørst” in terms of energy, swagger and crude lasting value and serves as a timely reminder that sometimes, less is indeed more.
Musically and lyrically thus, “Death by Drowning” seems to speak a rather plain language. But beneath the rollicking surface, Schau is really tackling a range of emotions to do with alcoholism, loneliness, self-loathing and suicide. Perhaps most telling is the tragedy and regret of the album’s catchiest moment: the chorus of “All of Us Kids Were Accidents”. Deftly masked by inspiriting, Hellacopters-y rock’n’roll by his band, the tone and meaning of Schau’s words are nonetheless unmistakable:
“The only thing you did admit was that your hopes had snapped like sticks, so believing in heaven wasn’t worth it. But how I wish to god I knew, what you had set your mind to do. ‘Cause I never liked you, I fucking loved you!”
One suspects that it is precisely this paradox of uplift and misery that makes The Dogs so appealing. It is somehow invigorating to join voices with the band to roar ”Stay under water, stay under water!” or ”At least I / can say I’ve tried / tried to die alive!” and trip out to swirls of organ and ‘70s rock guitar while Schau personifies alcoholism in “Stay Underwater” and “Where the Circle Joins”, respectively. And the way he grapples loss to death in a pleasant, King Dude-like baritone against a backdrop of harmonica and classic balladry in “It Still Hurts”, actually takes away the anxiety most people would ascribe to the idea, and adorns it with a romantic sense of closure.
For an album ostensibly born of a veritable assembly line, “Death by Drowning” thus plays like a remarkably considered piece of music. Variety may be at a premium, but with each of the ten songs etching an indelible impression through a potpourri of brazen attitude, effective hooks, lush soundscapes, relatable sentiments and sharp wit, it hardly matters if every one of them is not so clearly distinguished from the other. Most importantly, The Dogs manage to sound real even at their most unabashed, never lapsing into frivolous fun or splashing in the shallows.
Download: Oslo, All of Us Kids Were Accidents, Please Say Something, It Still Hurts
For the fans of: The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, King Dude, Kvelertak
Release date 02.01.2017