California Literary Review

When You See Sparks

A CLR Music Blog

Album Review: This Machine from The Dandy Warhols

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April 27th, 2012 at 3:55 am

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The Dandy Warhols: This Machine

Artist: The Dandy Warhols

Album: This Machine

CLR Rating: ★★★½☆

The Dandy Warhols are known for their psychedelia-tinted rock pop. Catchy, effusive songs full of electronic earnestness linger in the collective musical memory of the band’s past two decades. At times it’s hard to escape an identity that a band has established over the years, and when a group evolves it can be as awkward as the growing pains of adolescence.

Frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor claims their latest album is “stripped down, woody and extremely guitar centric.” It’s true that the guitar is largely featured, but it’s difficult to agree with the rest of this assessment. While This Machine isn’t overproduced, it’s far from being stripped down. The music is always full, even dense at times, with a lushness of distortion that’s almost hypnotic. Similarly “woody” seems inappropriate as an adjective here – upon listening one feels the presence of an urban jungle rather than the solitude of a natural forest.

With its rocky pop melody and familiar percussion, the song “Sad Vacation” feels most like The Dandy Warhols we’ve heard before. However the encroaching bass and distortion within the tune hint deliciously at the intriguing journey yet to come. “Enjoy Yourself” is a Brit punk flavored anthem of the self that sparkles with its simultaneously snarky and catchy lyrics. Similarly, the crossbreeding of their pop with several genres spawns genuinely delightful offspring. “Well They’re Gone” is particularly beautiful with its carnival-esque melody and a synthetic theramin wending its way through the percussion and slow, measured vocals – a surprising deviation that’s welcome. The song “Rest Your Head” pushes the vocals of their frontman to some wonderfully bass-heavy lows accompanied by full, rich music and background harmonies. One stand-out song is the band’s cover of “16 Tons;” with a prominent saxophone, sharply punctuated percussion, and growling vocals, this is a version that speaks to the emotional content of the song with a sexy flourish.

The following song contains some NSFW language.
[soundcloud url="http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/43282148" iframe="true" /]

Not all of the explorations on this album are completely satisfying. “I Am Free,” another ode to the self, comes off less successfully than its Brit punk sibling, with a comparatively uninteresting melody and far more naïve lyrics than its predecessor. “SETI Vs. The Wow Signal” toys with psychedelic rock without delving too deeply into the meat of it, which leaves the song feeling a bit lackluster. While “Don’t Shoot She Cried” is an interesting bit of experimentation, with an occasionally western-feeling harmonica and lightly choral vocals, it tends to swell slightly too often into the realm of dissolution.

This album is less a painful act of maturation than a graceful stretch towards something truly outstanding. The skeletal structure of the group’s pop supports these new songs, and what grows from it is at times inspired. Far from any spandrels here, the exploration into different genres and instruments feels necessary. Any awkwardness that the listener might discover lies not in the experimental portions of the album, but when The Dandy Warhols failed to integrate themselves into their experiments.

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