Dot Dash // Earthquakes & Tidal Waves
The Beautiful Music
Recommended Track: Walls Closing In (because the bass at the beginning is actually pretty cool)
I dunno, maybe it’s because I was educated in a vaguely post-modern way and world but I can’t help but see pastiche — not pastiche, that’s not the right word; I’m not sure the right word exists yet — everywhere I look. I hesitate to use the word pastiche because it suggests a kind of faithful and loving copy that’s primary function is to operate as copy. I don’t really mean “homage,” either, because often what an artist may pass off as a “nod” to a forbearer is less a healthy borrowing and more a sort of crutched-up lean-to. Normally I remove sentences like this from my writing: I write paragraphs flirting around concepts and delineating uncertainty and gesturing at certain concrete concepts and ideas as a way to get to the heart of the matter, as it were. And then banish all that vagueness into the ethereal recycling bin.
But leaving all this uncertainty seems appropriate when writing about Dot Dash’s Mitch Easter-produced album, Earthquakes and Tidal Waves. I’ll confess: I’m on a plane right now and the wifi is too expensive and I didn’t quite do my research. Unlike Dot Dash, who clearly have. Earthquakes and Tidal Waves isn’t bad, by any stretch of the word. In fact, it’s quite good: every song is well-performed, well-composed, well-produced, and well-written. And yet that isn’t quite enough. The fact that I feel the need (as did the editor when pitching this record to me) to tout it as a Mitch Easter-produced affair should speak volumes, which is something that the record, ultimately, does not.
I’d almost rather listen to a bad record, honestly. And this record is good. It hits all the right spots; as an amateur pop scholar, I can appreciate its attention to craft. But I fucking hate that idea. I always return to Shakespeare’s little quip from Hamlet: more matter, less art. There have been countless albums like this one hesitantly shuffled out into the world, especially during the UK’s indiepopcumshoegazebutnotreally heyday of the 90s. Dot Dash sounds a bit like Ride, a bit like Lush, a bit like Ocean Blue — hell, even a bit like Oasis at times, with their neo-psychedelic chord changes and ear for a melodic hook. But I’ve listened to this album a handful of times now and couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of these songs, except that some of them have a bit that goes from the major to the minor of a chord, and that they all kind of have a similar structure, and that there is hardly a whit of personality on this entire record (save for the aforementioned legendary producer tag.)
I sort of hate writing about records like this because I am left in the end with nothing to say. This record isn’t bad. It’s good, but that’s exactly all it is; and there’s this kind of weird, invisible but massive difference between a good record and a fucking good record, you know? Like, if we’re talking pure, I don’t know, aesthetics or enjoyability, sure, play this record for your weird cousin/uncle who’s still pleased as piss that Close Lobsters played NYC Popfest a few years ago. I was there; it wasn’t that great. I spent their set sitting on the floor of Littlefield in Brooklyn drunkenly wishing I was anywhere else.
I keep meaning to give structure to this review; I keep telling myself I’ll clip it and curve it into shape so it resembles some sort of intelligentlycomposed reaction to a piece of art. But I can’t wrap my mind around the record I keep listening to. It is hardly a sum of its parts. It’s steeped in that horrific word, nostalgia. If this record had been made in 1985 perhaps lonely 20-somethings in 2015 would worship it as a lost classic. But released as it was in 2015, it resembles more the model of a fossil found in a museum gift shop than anything on display in a museum itself.
Like I said: I’m on a plane. I forgot I told my editor that I was working on this piece and that I’d get it done ASAP, despite having not written a word of it. I’m listening to the record again to see if there’s absolutely anything positive I can really say about it. I like that “Semaphore” quotes the closing lines of The Great Gatsby. I studied literature in college so that’s cool. But then it gets me thinking: why? Why would you want to beat against the current, ceaselessly into the past? That was precisely Gatsby’s problem, wasn’t it? The inability to look anywhere but at the glowing green light in East Egg that symbolized for him a paradise lost.
Now I’m listening to “Walls Closing In” and I’m about ten minutes from landing at JFK. “Don’t close an open door,” the singer sort of tosses off semimelodically over another aforementioned majortominor chord change. And I’m just left thinking: maybe it’s ok to close some doors from time to time.