I’ve spent the last week or two thinking a lot about the “alternative” label when applied to music, and I arrived at the conclusion in my last review that this moniker is just too broad to encompass so many different kinds of styles. So then you get sub-genres like alt-rock, alt-pop, alt-country, etc. Then there’s the age-old question, what exactly are these bands an alternative to? I first heard the term applied to bands that might have also been called new wave, and those bands were clearly an alternative to both glossy pop and the hard rock and metal that dominated airwaves twenty-five and thirty years ago. Now that genres are so fragmented, and the mainstream seems to be dominated by overproduced pop and country, I think about how even current rock and metal bands are an alternative to what’s on the airwaves, yet they’re not called alternative. These are the questions that keep me awake at night.
These are the questions that seem especially pressing to me when I’m thinking about a band like The Dead Good, an L.A. duo that’s been together less than a year and is producing sounds that are hard to categorize. On paper, they’re a band that should fall into the alternative rock genre, but this is where categories become problematic.
Sonny Lanegan and Isabella Knight have been working together since early 2013, and they released the six tracks for Thirteen Polaroids (don’t think too hard about the math) in May, 2013. Guitarist/ vocalist Lanegan brings heavy chords and resonant distortion to their debut EP, Thirteen Polaroids. The instrumentation merges electronic, blues, and punk elements. Then you add Knight’s lead vocals, smoky with a howl and growl that makes me think her voice might be the result of some kind of lab experiment involving Patti Smith and Debbie Harry (this would make it the coolest lab in the history of ever). The combination creates simply glorious noise. But it’s not easy to define.
1) Junk Nation– The EP opens with its strongest track, easily my favorite. The electronic instrumentation in the opening bars threw me a little– Lanegan got his start with Nine Inch Nails tribute band The Spiral and went on to found another electronic group White Pulp– but the electronica gives way to hard guitar chords and dark harmonies in the vocals. However it starts, the track announces itself as a rock song quickly and assertively.
2) Saw, Drills and Glue Guns– Starts with a percussion assault that blends with more chord-driven guitar. There’s a lot of interplay between the male and female vocals that reveal the chemistry between Lanegan and Knight. It’s got sex appeal, despite– or perhaps because of– the title.
3) Room 106– This track has a slower tempo, which brings the dark tones that define The Dead Good’s sound to the forefront. Even so, the pacing here gives the track a more pop feel than the other songs– but I don’t want to be up all night thinking about what “pop” means, so I’ll leave it there.
4) Crush– The heaviest and darkest of the six tracks, with bass sounds driving the composition into the low register. I just can’t get enough of Knight’s voice here.
5) I Put a Spell on You– A cover of the 1956 Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic, but the most famous version of this one is probably Nina Simone’s interpretation. It’s a sensual and dark track in its original, or near-original form, so it seems like a perfect fit for Knight’s voice. But the execution is more rhythmic, almost like a march. I appreciate the innovative execution, but I was hoping for something sexier.
6) Through My Bones– A solid finish that brings back the sensuality that seemed to be lacking in the previous track and plays to the band’s strengths, solid guitar work and mezmerizing vocals.
Thirteen Polaroids is available on Spotify and for name-your-price download via bandcamp.
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