By Nathan Pavolko
Many artists today are in full swing with the electro-pop craze, given the revival of techno music through EDM. I’m sure many die-hards out there are throwing a fit by me comparing the two, but it’s true. Natural stringed instruments are being put on the back burner; even full drum sets are being substituted by drum machines and beat pads. We truly are in the digital age with technology overwhelming our lives whether we like it or not. This can be a wonderful thing, yet as time passes people tend to forget where everything started while neglecting important milestones of musical history that could potentially alter the music of today. Reanimating those roots are small independently run labels like the hip Burger Records and Lolipop Records along with countless others.
One band that stays true to form is fuzzed-out psych rock band Dances. Originally a solo project of singer-guitarist Trevor Vaz, the band formed in 2013 with the addition of bassist-singer Sam Stoeltje and drummer David Su. Together they blended an excellent concoction of 60s psychedelic and 90s alternative that led to them releasing the Whiter Sands EP in 2014, recorded by Daniel Schlett (DIIV, Total Slacker, Here We Go Magic). Now they have returned to Schlett to record their debut full length Keep Talking on Black Bell Records. The album is amazingly resilient with a grimy rock n' roll energy and sleek and sexy guitar riffs, almost sounding as if a band off the famed Nuggets compilation were produced and recorded today with all the brilliant advancements since the 60s.
Their rocking single “Suzy Lee” kick starts the album, holding nothing back the band blasts out a distorted blues riff alongside a shattering drum and bass groove. This is an extremely fun tune; I can only imagine the ferocity of “Suzy Lee” live. With Vaz’s animalistic vocals, it’ll have all you punk moshers moving in no time. The second track “Holy Fool” takes a step back to catch their breath to deliver a bouncy, more relaxed pop expression. I’m really surprised that this song isn’t on the radio playing with bands like Jet or Foster The People. The big vocal hook in the chorus “All I wanted was to // Call right after you,” brings the song together, making it a solid pop gem that deserves some spotlight.
The versatility of Vaz and Stoeltje’s vocals are as clear as day in the songs “Big Man” and “Rat”. “Big Man” has a rebellious angst mixed with the beautiful pop elements of Peter, Bjorn, And John. The tune is straight out of the 90s musically with its bubbly bass and chromatic guitar melodies, all with a glossy finish to the production. Many of Dances’ slower tracks have an undeniable 90s radio rock sensibility. I could see them being on MTV back when they still did music videos. “Rat” somehow transcends the relentless energy of “Suzy Lee” with an insanely huge guitar riff sliding down the neck as the vocals scream in a distorted blur. Noisy, loud, and completely rocking, this song is a kick in the teeth, the perfect theme song for an adrenaline junkie.
Dances has a knack for those iconic guitar heavy songs, a staple in rock n’ roll by all means. However, when I came across “Holy Soda,” I was taken aback. The band sets aside their aggression to feature John Karpay of Life Size Maps to play cello on a few tracks. The result is wonderful with the clash of guitar and cello in their songwriting creating a great tension. There is a burning urgency in the song’s chorus, as if the band were taming their need to play loud. “Holy Soda” is a breathe of fresh air from the enthusiastic first half. After introducing the cello, Dances takes it a step further and implements these ideas to a harder hitting song. “The Fence” starts off with a sluggish blues guitar intro, then forms into a growling chug when the full band comes in. The combination of the splattering guitar and deep bellow of the cello resonate a classic rock sound similar to T Rex. The chorus is a playful slap happiness as doubled vocals harmonize to a care free lyric: “And the wind don’t pass me by, no the wind don’t pass me by”.
The final portion of the album has an abundance of feel good songs, ranging from the grimy blown out “All I Wanna Do Is Sleep,” the dreamy beach rock “Sunday Painters,” and the rippling waves of their second single “Jones.” All three of these tracks speak such a smiling expression, yet there is a faint solemn feeling to Vaz’s voice, which gently pulling at your heart strings with spellbinding lyrics and a lackadaisical crooning. Last, but not least, is “Take Me With You To Beijing,” a Beatles-esque piano ballad, Vaz singing a hopeful story of overcoming odds.
Keep Talking is a wildly entertaining debut LP for Dances, sticking to a more traditional formula so the band never fails to deliver a solid song. With copious amounts of energy and spirit, the trio successfully blend the power of 60s psych rock with the polish and hooks of 90s alternative. Though self-indulgent at times, they always seem to redeem themselves with their interesting songwriting and fantastic choruses. If you’re looking for a modern rock band with lots of heart and enthusiasm, then give Dances a listen.