The Dandy Warhols have suffered some mixed reviews in recent years and, to many, haven't ever come close to capturing the form they found themselves on in their heyday in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. But ‘Distortland' shows them releasing their most engrossing material in years.
Opener 'Search Party' offers exquisite synth accented psych rock with disorienting reverb laden vocals that imply Courtney Taylor-Taylor is in a trance like state. Next up is 'Semper Fidelis', a cut more overtly similar in style to what the album title suggests it's like. A richly distorted palm-muted guitar riff drives the song as a clean spangling lead drops in and out. Vocally it's more dazed than the opening track. 'Pope Reverent Jim' keeps the distorted instrumentation going, yet Taylor-Taylor morphs into his natural vocal habitat and is oozing hit melodies. Meanwhile, a hi-tempo repetitive synth line adds to the overall racing energy.
Things are taken down a level on 'Catcher In The Rye' and Taylor-Taylor’s hushed delivery in the verse invites a close examination of his emotionally afflicted lyrics. A clean, twangy bass line is the anchor of the song yet fluttering samples add intriguing texture.
'STYGGO' is a natural choice for a first single as it comes littered with hooks. Taylor-Taylor's lightly distorted vocal is the main appeal but the level of detail in the production is also a huge asset. The high treble synth lines, tabla, and backing vocals, are just a few additions in its rich texture that puts it up there with the most inventive work of their career.
Following the hit single, is the airy reverb-drenched vocals of 'Give' that fit effortlessly with a lo-fi acoustic guitar. This is an introverted, heartbreaking song, where the backing vocals and piano and slow distorted electric guitar don't distract from the original feel Taylor-Taylor would have been going for on his own in a room.
On 'You Are Killing Me' the band sound totally revitalised. It's like they've come out of the deep emotional scrutiny of 'Give' and discovered contentment with this uptempo indie rock cut. This more direct feel is in contrast to the lyrics, though. “You are killing me and everything you love about me / You're making it harder and harder and harder on me / If you ain't telling me, telling me much that you love me anymore,” doesn't exactly exude happiness. The playfully optimistic glam rock on 'All the Girls in London' does, however. It's the most sociable track from the album to put on as it isn't all drugged up like the first part of the album, nor is it depressing lyrically.
'Doves' is the best embrace of shoegaze on the album as the lyrically direct style of the middle of the album is neglected. Finally, 'The Grow Up Song' is a goodnight lullaby and sounds like it was recorded by Taylor-Taylor alone. It's a distorted guitar and him singing, which is the style of all these songs originally before they were taken to the band and the studio.
‘Distortland' may not see them return to the genius pop level they had up until 2003's ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’. But it is much closer. In a recent interview, Taylor-Taylor spoke of how enamoured he was with this work personally and that he rediscovered the giddy excitement he’d had while listening to rock as a teenager. It's easy to see why — this is an album they should all be proud of.
Words: Cai Trefor
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