Friday, September 26, 2008

The Dials: Amoeba Amore. New Wave, Perfect Rock 'n' Roll.

The Dials

Amoeba Amore
No Fun Records

"New Wave" is the hardest thing in the world to describe. It's basically anything that didn't have guitar solos and a bunch of guys wearing leather, spikes, and long hair who played arenas in the '80s. It was something that most radio stations just didn't touch for a few years. It's hard to musically categorize new wave, but it was a mix of '60s garage/punk, early punk, post punk, Velvet Underground, and maybe some early psychedelic rock. That's a lot to go with. However, for one who was alive and listening to music in the early '80s, the word "New Wave" or "Modern Music" brings to mind bands like Devo, Josie Cotton, and maybe Oingo Boingo. It was fast, danceable, loud music that had some kind of quirky bend to it with a synth trading off prominence with guitars. Chicago's The Dials sound like a new wave band. It's young and new with hints of '60s girl groups and keyboard melodies but it still sounds like rock 'n' roll, just with a post modern keyboard/synth over it. Amoeba Amore couldn't be less than a "new wave" title. It's downright nerdy and cool to start with. That was kind of the calling card for new wave. It was out of the mainstream and not for the popular kids. They were busy listening to Ozzy, Rush, Van Halen, Twisted Sister, etc (No offense to those guys, btw). It was musically new ground there for the nerds, weirdos, and misfits that weren't angry enough to go punk. New wave aside, The Dials and their May 2008 release Amoeba Amore is more than a "new wave" album. It's actually full of great songs that defy comparison when combined into a single album.

"Antonio" is a girl group song amped up in power chords. Vocal/bass Rebecca Crawford sounds urgent, but strong and her voice slightly leans towards the "loud" than melodic end, which adds an element of youth and newness. It sounds like a '60s girl group, but it's also loud powerpop and a catchy chorus. The album's title track "Amoeba Amore" has a more trashy guitar sound from Patti Gran coupled with a lyric to excite the brain in anyone - "Don't want to be a, onomatopeia." Punk/new wave with a brain? Do you remember "Square Pegs"? If so, you'll get the quirked out weirdness of "3 Is Better Than 4," a definite new wave keyboard song somewhere between The Sparks and Devo that builds up to a louder guitar song with keyboard fading back into a cool melody.

"Aim and Shoot" is a departure because it trades off the power chords for a more subtle interplay of guitar vs. keyboard melodies which are very reminiscent of The Chameleons, and almost unknown but seminal dark Britpop band from Manchester, UK that was around inbetween fellow Manchesterites Joy Division and The Smiths but never found the recognition that they so aptly deserved. "Sharp Teeth" is a minimal approach that's both eerie and optimistic - "Tonight I'm going to make it right, so show your teeth tonight." In almost keeping a theme, the following "Blood Sucker" somehow reminds me of The Damned. I have no clue why. Maybe because it's a guitar track with the keyboard providing a slightly post punk/goth melody, Rebecca and/or Patti's vocals (they both do lead, so I'm not sure which one sings lead on each song) possess an almost dark command like Dave Vanian on The Black Album. Honestly, it's not that dark, but the hints are there.

One couldn't have a "new wave" album without a good '80s reference. "Joe Lies" is a perfect reference with an almost "Do You Wanna Dance" melody that's just as sweet and memorable with powerchords and "Ooh La La" harmonies. "Happy After All" is post punk in it's guitar note melody, but the chorus makes it a lot more fun. I'm not sure how to describe or rate their cover of Foreigner's forgettable "Urgent," but the Chad Romowski's beats and Emily Dennsion's keys make a crappy song about as good as it could possibly be.

I think a possible summation of The Dials Amoeba Amore is found on the ending track "Carnivale" with it's post punk structure combined with two female vocals that compliment each other but have a more tongue in cheek and less serious approach that's more raw, but the descriptions fall short. It's quite often that great music isn't easily categorized. The Dials have elements of '60s girl groups, the spontanaiety of NY punk, melodies that are either early '80s American new wave like Blondie, Devo or others, strong powerpop hooks, and those melodies often hint at darker post punk. Amoeba Amore has touches of all those things. It's fun and catchy, but successfully branches into darker territory without sounding like a different band. I would really have to point out right now that great rock 'n' roll is not a category but an overall approach. It can take you to new places or at least, ones you haven't visited in a while. The Dials Amoeba Amore is a great album for doing that. In the end, they prove that the categories are utterly useless in tying them to one thing. The Dials are a great band in their defiance of a category, but they have a growing following and have shared the stage with equally talented but more easily definable acts like The Woggles and The Briefs.

Amoeba Amore is different, challenging, and a lot to absorb. However, it's truly different and definitely original rock 'n' roll that leaves one wanting to hear much more of The Dials.

Amoeba Amore is available at your local indie record store and online at No Fun Records. There's also an upcoming review for The Avatars, another act on No Fun Records.

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